Homily for the 25th Sunday in ordinary time, year B

If my tomato plants seem to be too small, and I try to simply stretch them until they are big enough, I will ruin them. I have to supply the conditions under which they can grow on their own, taking in sun and water and turning it into the fruit.

Something similar is true about humans and human communities, from the family to entire countries and the community of all mankind. To regulate everything by exterior principles, by a multiplicity of laws and policies, is impossible and counterproductive, diminishing the interior freedom necessary to live well. Each of us needs to be orderly within himself, to have a healthy and peaceful human community.

St. James points to the passions as sources of all kinds of disorder among men.
The passions are part of who we are: it’s good and normal to be hungry when we need food and to be satisfied when we’ve had a good meal; it’s likewise good and normal to want recognition, success, justice.

While the desire for money, food, or pleasure can lead us to excess, often a more insidious problem is presented by desires, that clothes themselves with an appearance of justice and a deeper purpose: pride, ambition, jealousy… “We’re being treated unfairly, others receive more recognition or money from the Church. We can’t accept that.” Or “He began!… He is in the wrong. HE has to make an apology.” Or “They are completely wrong… they have to recognize and correct their mistake, before there’s any point in talking with them.”
What is the solution? The solution, or starting point of a solution is not to reject or repel one’s own desire for justice, but to put it in the context of service, which can sometimes recognize the “right” thing to do in giving in, even if the other person is objectively “wrong”.

That doesn’t mean being a wimp, or pretending that everything is just fine. Jesus says, “he who would be the first… should make himself the servant of all.” We are not to be the slave of one person, obeying and accepting everything from that person, but able to see behind a conflict between two sides, and despite various difficulties, look out for and seek the common good, the good of all.

Sometimes we make heavy crosses for ourselves in life with others, because we are simply in principle unwilling ever to give in or to give way. To be considerate, however, to have understanding for the point of view of others, even if we disagree with them, to make allowances for the weaknesses of others, to exercise patience and make sacrifices out of faith in God’s love, smooths our own way, and brings us closer to God’s kingdom, where he is all and in all.

(This is my homily text from the 25th Sunday of Ordinary time in 2015).

Homily for the 24th Sunday in ordinary time, year B

People often enjoy talk about other persons. The disciples, too, gladly tell what other people think of Jesus. Only Peter is bold enough to position himself: "You are not merely some special man, but the Messiah, the Son of God." With this profession he makes a great advance in his life of faith and his relationship to Jesus.

Jesus demands a decision. He who decides for Jesus is unable to continue living simply as he was before, as he would without Jesus. He is taken into the life of Jesus, which entails more suffering as well as more joy.

Jesus tells the Apostles, without pulling any punches, the suffering that he will endure, and they as well. Peter, perhaps thinking that Jesus has gone off the far end, reproaches him. Yet Peter has seminally what he needs to accept this part of Jesus's message: his profession of faith in Jesus, which can lead him to understand the meaning of the suffering that Jesus takes on, and that Peter himself will have to endure.

Jesus is the suffering servant, his suffering and death a sacrifice to redeem his people. It is not, however, his suffering and death per se, as a material price, that redeems, but his love, a love that does not reject suffering, when it is necessary.

We frequently need such love in our lives, too. In many situations a way out is possible only at the price of a sacrifice: crises in a relationship, enduring conflicts, fidelity in difficult situations; often it is only love that is ready for sacrifice that can help. To take just one example, to resolve a conflict and realize healing in a wounded relationship, we must often be ready to give up on coming out as the "winner", or even be willing to have just a little bit the feeling of "losing". Genuine reconciliation doesn't have a loser, since both sides are the better for it, but sometimes we still have the feeling of giving something up and in this sense of losing.

How do we stand on the issue of making sacrifices for Jesus, of entering not only into his joy, but his suffering as well? Do we think that as believers, life will be easier and we will have fewer problems, because God solves them for us or doesn't let them arise in the first place? It can happen, particularly at the beginning of the way in faith, that God makes the way attractive, to encourage us, as one may reward a child with sweets. But at some point we must cease to be dependent on these sweets, whether that is interior consolation or providential avoidance of exterior difficulties. The deepest joy in faith isn't found in God's preserving us from all evils and difficulties, but in being united with HIM, even then, indeed especially then, when loves calls for a sacrifice.

As gratitude gives our joys a deeper meaning, as a gift from one who loves us, so readiness to sacrifice gives our sufferings a deeper meaning, as being an instrument of salvation in Christ.

In the measure that we make these two fundamental attitudes, gratitude and making sacrifice, "offering them up" for and with Jesus, we will experience the fulfillment of Christ's promise, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be given to you as well." We won't always have everything that we might immediately wish to have, but in what we do have and in what we don't have (or what we suffer), we will find ourselves to be rich in him.

Homily for the 22th Sunday in ordinary time, year B

"For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance." (Matt 13:12) These words of Christ are true on many levels. Those blessed with good parents, to grow up in an intact family where peace is lived within the family, where parents encourage them, who have many natural talents, are thereby better equipped to leverage their position and abilities to achieve their goals, exterior goals such as getting a job or starting a business, and interior goals such as learning discipline and perseverance.

But as a secret treasure doesn't benefit someone if he knows nothing at all about it, so the blessings we have won't do much for us if we don't perceive them. And conversely, they will profit us more, if we not only are aware of them, but recognize them precisely as blessings given us by God. But really, everything good we have, receive, do, and enjoy, is a blessing given us by God. "Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17) Thankfulness for what we've been given is a virtue, and gratitude towards God is like a virtue supporting all others. As hope and joy are key in directing us toward what we have not yet attained and resting in the good we have, so gratitude plays a key role in distinguishing joy from mere pleasure, in giving deep meaning to the goods we enjoy: they do not arise simply by happenstance, nor are they merely the fruit of our labors, but are a gift given us by someone who loves us deeply, by God himself.

Gratitude leads naturally to responsibility. A rich, but spoiled child, ungrateful for all he has received from his parents, is readily incline to spend-thriftiness and laziness. Whereas a child of parents with more moderate means, grateful for his parents and all he has received from them, is inclined to apply himself and what he has to achieve his goals.

St. James exhorts us: "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22) Receiving the word of Christ in a personal manner, as a gift granted and entrusted to us, leads us to respond in kind. And so obedience to the demands of the Gospel is a sign that we've received the word within our heart. St. James adduces as an example visiting orphans and widows, and keeping oneself pure from worldly excesses and perversions.

To many, the moral requirements of the Gospel of Christ and the Church appear rather as a burden making life worse than as a way and means to happiness. This notion is one of the many causes why christian faith is not taken serious or even outright rejected. The decisive reason for the abandonment of Christianity,” wrote Cardinal Ratzinger, the year before he became Pope, is that “It seems to place too many restraints on humankind that stifle its joie de vivre, that limit its precious freedom, and that do not lead it to open pastures but rather into want, into deprivation.”

It is true that, those who, in faith, experience their life as a way in friendship with God, who live each day grateful for the blessings of that day and the life, do not always find it easy in a given moment to do what is right and good. But, for them, on the whole, it is ultimately a joy rather than a burden to follow the Lord, to love and serve him. In this way they experience in their own lives the truth of the Lord’s promise, “My yoke is sweet and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:30).

Wherever on this spectrum we may fall, whether we’ve merely accepted the faith from our parents as something we just take it for granted, and don’t find it any particular source of great joy, or whether we have already experienced the tremendous joy of knowing Christ, let’s pray for a grateful heart every day, to be attentive to the many good things that happen to us, and that we ourselves achieve, to see this a loving gift of God to us, and to respond in kind, with a joyful and loving heart to him, in Himself and in our brothers and sisters.

Homily for the 21th Sunday in ordinary time, year B

Jesus Christ turned many things upside down. The Son of God, the Almighty, Immortal, became man and subjected himself to the weakness of the cross, to save those who had offended His Father by their sin, also us. And so, through his teaching, life and death, he transformed all sorts of power relationships.
Worldwide and in the history of the human race the man tends to stand above the woman, to have more power or authority in the relationship between them and in society.
Paul recognizes such a relationship between husband and wife, however — and this is a tremendous qualification — in the context of a mutual subject in reverence for Christ, and, still more, with the understanding that in the body of Christ, every authority and power is for the benefit of the subordinate or weaker, regardless whether the authority arises from an office, ability, or a particular situation. For Christ, too, came to serve and to give us life for us. St. Paul, in a manner, inverts the power relationship (“Husbands, love your wives”). Contrary to the common polemic, according to which the Church oppresses women, it is especially there, where the Church and Christianity flowered, that the dignity and freedom of women is most recognized. Still, it took a long time for the teaching of Christ and St. Paul to penetrate the culture, and we must admit that it is various respects still not fully realized.
The general principle, that power and authority is for the benefit of the weaker and subordinate, I want to connect today with the various reports from the USA and Ireland over the past few weeks, which most of you have likely heard something of in newspapers or on television, of abuse perpetrated by deacons, priests and bishops within the Church, against those entrusted to them, men and women, youth, children. That would be bad enough, but what at least in my country, the USA, especially outrages persons, and that not only the usual enemies of the Church, who are always on the lookout for an occasion to attack the Church, but also those most faithful to the Church, is the way in which many cases were dealt with, that greater attention was given to preserving the Church's image or retaining the Church's ministers than to doing all reasonably possibly to prevent further abuses.
On this subject I want to make three points today.
First, we should not neither instrumentalize nor polemize the suffering of victims. Many gladly use such reports as an occasion to push for something that they are in favor of regardless. Within the Church, from one side (the liberal), the abuse is used to argue against the discipline of priestly celibacy, from another side (conservative/orthodox), to argue for stricter upholding of the Church's teaching and discipline regarding homosexuality and the priestly ministry. From without the Church, it is used to argue, in effect, that the Church is inherently wicked, does more harm than good. Very briefly, to the concrete issues: the incidence of abuse perpetrated by Anglican priests, who are generally married, is the same as that perpetrated by Roman Catholic priests, who are generally celibate; and in both cases it is something like twice as rate as the incidence of some crimes by teachers and coaches, who are in many cases married. So there is at least no immediate statistical evidence to conclude that either the priestly office or celibacy increases the chance of a man becoming a perpetrator. That said, given the Church's call to holiness, it is no claim to fame that its ministers are only just as prone to sexual misbehavior and crimes as other religious ministers are, are just somewhat less than other professions. And there may be some substantive issues in some cases linked with celibacy, e.g., loneliness, particularly for those not living in some form of community. The issue of homosexuality is more complex; here, in fact, the majority of persons abused by priests are male, though overall females are abused more than males. On the other hand, many perpetrators at least claim that the sex of the victim did not particularly matter to them… it was a matter of who was accessible to them. To the third point, again, the incidence of abuse by ministers of the Church, as far as we have definite numbers, is less than that in non-religious educational institutions, or sport clubs, as well as by family members. That doesn't make the abuse by ministers of the Church in any way okay, but does take the feet out of the argument that the Church's teaching on salvation, sin, sexuality, etc. or structure inclines people generally to wickedness.
More fundamentally, while all such reports may provide food for thought and possible input and evidence on these various topics, it is a unjust instrumentalization of victim's sufferings to use them merely to prop up positions one holds otherwise.
For us all, it is important, on the one hand, not to exaggerate the evil and tar all ministers with the same brush, nor, on the other hand, out of zeal for the Church, to downplay the wrong and the abuses in handling the situations.

We can, however, and this is my second point, learn some things and recognize certain temptations and pitfalls to be avoided. In the Church, as a long-standing institution being and recognizing itself as the bearer of the most important message, the Gospel, and even, in its sacraments and life, of Jesus Christ himself, one can easily be tempted to overrate oneself and to focus on self-preservation. To preserve its image, to be unwilling to believe that such a good priest could do such a thing (and laity may fall prey to this temptation just as much as bishops or other priests); to preserve its peace, to be unwilling to upset things; to preserve its constituency, its ministers (and here, too, it is not just bishops, but also laity, who often put such on a emphasis on having a priest, regardless of his qualities or deficiencies). For such reasons, priests have, at times, been silently moved to other parishes, even while those responsible knew of grave misdeeds.
This isn't something that happens only in the Church. The same thing happens in families and extended families, where most cases of abuse take place. One doesn't want or can't believe such a thing about one's stepfather, uncle, brother, nephew; one doesn't want to disturb family peace or cause a ruckus, one doesn't want to get involved, doesn't want to set something in motion that could lead to a indictment or prison for a relative, etc.

Thirdly, recognizing the existence of such temptations, we need to make it a point, in the Church, in families and extended families, not to look away or ignore the situation, when we have a bad feeling about a situation, or hear something about it, from a potential victim or another person, but to carefully look at it. Not to silently let it be, but to do something. In many cases, the first step should be to get advice, to talk about the situation with someone not so close to it and so emotionally involved, with someone with experience or education in the area. For, indeed, to act too quickly, especially when it is a case where active abuse is still ongoing, came not infrequently cause more harm than good. (Some comments about institutions serving this purpose in the diocese of Vienna made here…) We are called to co-responsibility for each other within the body of Christ, whether ordained or not, and regardless of our place in the hierarchy.

I'd like to close with a more general look at this temptation to self-preservation. The temptation to avoid the real problem, and instead focus on preservation, can appear in many other areas. E.g., in countries that were Christian for many centuries, a Christian and ecclesial culture was taken for granted. Those who couldn't name any other reason to go to Church on Sunday than the fact that it was customary, and that "that's just what one does", still went out of custom and as a tradition. In face of the rapid decline in Christian and ecclesial culture the temptation can be great to take up the attitude of preservation and resistance, a defense mechanism keeping us from recognizing the state of the faith in purportedly Christian countries such as Austria, to think, "the most important thing is, we still have a priest"; "the most important thing is, we still have OUR Mass", to oppose proposed parish unions, joint liturgies celebrated in another Church, etc. This, too, can be a distraction from what is happening, finally, a distraction from HIM, who alone matters. Peter says, "to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life"; if it is a matter of preservation, than a matter of preserving <i>his</i> presence in the Church, <i>his</i> words, <i>his</i> teaching.

I'd like to close with a prayer… []

 

Homily for the 20th Sunday in ordinary time, year B (with Hunting club)

We can do one and the same thing in various ways and with various attitudes: we can perform a task rushing about in a hurry or with calm and composure, we can do a friend’s bidding with joy or grudgingly, we can entrust someone with responsibility with confidence or fear that something will go wrong. The ability to consistently do what is right, and do it with the attitudes appropriate to the situation, is what we call virtue.

Such virtues are necessary in hunting. It is not the hunter with the best weapon and the best clothing or camouflage who has success, but above all the one who can attend to the was of nature and the animals, who can recognize nature’s changing moods, and who has the patience to wait for the right moment.

A hunter has to wait for the right moment, to accept his own limits. Even the expert cannot assure success on a given day. Sometimes it is granted as one is finishing for the day and going home. Or, in turn, a sudden fog or change of wind can steal away an apparently assured game.

Not all of us are hunters, but we are all pursuing a variety of things: security or success in life, recognition, friendship, love… here, too, interior attitudes count more than exterior presuppositions. Not he attains happiness, who has the most money from his parents or grandparents, or the best education, but who can attend to himself and to others, who recognizes himself honestly, with strengths and weaknesses, and with humility and confidence puts them to work, and last but not least, indeed of greatest importance, he who can recognize the tracks, the gestures, and the words of God in his life, and follows them. Sometimes he speaks quietly, and we can easily overhear him. Sometimes he comes close, intervenes in our life, to draw out attention. Sometimes he distances himself, to rouse us.

According to the legend, Jesus Christ appeared to Hubert in the form of a deer. Hubert had an interior conversion, and from that point on viewed hunting in the greater context of the pursuit of the true meaning of life happiness, found in God’s plan for us.

So are we all called, whether or not hunters in the usual sense, to have open eyes and ears when God speaks to us, and to see our activities, responsibilities, interests and desires in the context of his plan, in which we are called, in various ways, to serve him, to serve the Church, to serve mankind in Christ Jesus, who came not to be served but to server.

Holy Communion is given us to strengthen us in this vocation. One who really wants and allows it, will be changed, transformed by this sacrament. The life of Jesus, the fullness of life, can become more and more my life, the more frequently, or rather and above all, the more intensely I united myself with him and receive him. The fruit is very much dependent on myself, whether I permit such a transformation. God does not force me, he makes a generous offer, comes to me under the appearance of bread. I can receive him out of habit, carelessly, and go my way. I can ignore it altogether, as so many, indeed the majority, who no longer even consider it worthwhile to attend Mass on Christmas and Easter (no wonder, that the sacraments of Christ and the Church do little to change their lives for their better, when they are so despised), or I can be open for the mystery of the Eucharist, strive to receive with great faith, love, and devotion, and then amazing things can happen in my life.

If we accept Christ’s offer of himself in this sacrament, we have a twofold task: to receive the Body of Christ, and to be open to him and amenable to his working in us; to thereby become the body of Christ, the Church, sacrament in the world for the life of the world. The many persons who do not understood or believe in the sacraments of the Church, may come to faith through us. If they can grasp the presence of the body of Christ in and through us, the Church, can perceive Christ living in us, they can through us come to faith in this sacrament too, to believe that the living Christ is truly present in this Most Holy Sacrament.

This homily was held in 2018 at a Mass with the hunting club of Eggendorf, reconstructed and translated from notes and memory.

Homily for the Assumption of Mary

At the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken in soul and body to heaven, that is, to the glory of eternal life in God.

When a loved one dies, he continues to exist in a certain fashion in the men and women who knew and loved him. As far as they can, they keep alive in their mind and hearts. But though they may want it, they cannot keep him really alive.
But God's love is the very reason we exist. We exist only because he has loved us from eternity and willed us to be. This love can preserve in being all within the communion of this love.

The original sin of Adam and Eve meant a turning away from this love. Shut off from full communion with this creative and life-giving love, the human race would have but a shadowy existence, returning nearly to the nothingness from which God's love had called it. Yet God in his mercy and love sent his Son came to renew the communion and friendship. By his death and resurrection he broke the bonds of death and renewed man's friendship with God. Made sharers in the mystery of his death and resurrection, we share also in his victory over sin and death. Already now, incorporated in Christ through grace and baptism, through faith and charity, we share in Christ's resurrection, possess eternal life within us, according to his promise: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life" (John 6:54) And though subject to weakness of body and to death, we hope to share in this life also in our bodies. "And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:54)

We see the fulfillment of this saving mystery and of our hope in a special way in Mary. Chosen to be the Mother of God, she is so closely united to Christ that already, immediately at the end of her earthly life, she shares fully in the resurrection of her Son in body and in soul, she lives now what we profess in the creed and hope for at the end of the world, the bodily resurrection of the dead.
Mary's sharing in Christ's definitive victory over death crowns her faith in the Word of God and her complete dedication to the Lord, of whom she became the temple, body and soul. As St. Augustine remarks, "Before conceiving the Lord in her body she had already conceived him in her soul," and this grace was still greater than merely bodily motherhood, as Christ remarks in relation to the blessedness of this motherhood, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:28) By divine grace Mary was prepared to be the dwelling place of God Himself, prepared body and soul, prepared forever. Thus she is blessed above all human creatures.

At the same time Mary shows us how we become blessed. We are blessed to the extent that we become dwelling places for the Lord, that we allow him to live in us. We do this first through faith. Elizabeth says to Mary: "Blessed is she who has believed" (Luke 1:45). This is the first step of beatitude, to believe and to trust in God, who reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ, who became Incarnate through the Virgin Mary, and who wills to show Himself through us – through our deeds and in our bodies – and to lead us to definitive communion with Him.

Mary responds: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46). She does not glory in praise of herself, but turns it to God. And this is the second step of beatitude, to turn the eyes of our heart to the Lord more than to ourselves, to love and to rejoice in the will of God more than in our own will. God's every will is done, and nothing happens without God's will, so to the extent we attain to this attitude of always loving and rejoicing in God's will, we shall already have attained the substance of true beatitude.

Let us praise and glorify the work of God in Mary, whom he graced above all other creatures and exalted in Heaven with her Son. Let us see in her what the Lord calls each of us to: a life of faith and love, a life that the Lord will bring to perfection in both our bodies and in our souls if we remain faithful to Him. And let us ask the Lord to strengthen our faith in eternal life, to increase our love, and to make us always joyful persons who live in trusting confidence that all things work out for good to those who love God.

(This homily takes up a number of thoughts expressed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.)

Living like a king (or queen)

You don't need to go out and buy an expensive stone castle. In fact, you probably don't need to do anything, you're already living like a king or queen, or even better than one! In almost every area of life, pretty much all of us (in the first world) can enjoy things that for most of human history, were the privilege of kings, queens, and wealthy businessman, or were merely the stuff of dreams. A few examples from the top of my head:

A car: whether you own one (or two, or three), or can rent one a few days a year to travel on vacation, with a car we can travel faster than was possible till the 19th century even for for the wealthiest who owned many horses, and easily remain comfortable and dry while travelling in rain and ice; many cars also have the luxury of air-conditioning.

Spacious houses with central heating: the majority of us in the west can heat our houses or apartments to a level of comfort that in prior centuries only the wealthy could afford (in those regions where central heating was a thing at all — elsewhere you would usually have either a small living space or a drafty and cold one.)

Phones, cell phones, computer, internet: we can deliver messages across the world orders of magnitudes faster than was possible through most of human history, and that cheaply (even in the USA, where telecommunications is more expensive than in many third world countries (!!), it is far cheaper than employing high-speed dedicated couriers or special manned messaging systems, as in the past was necessary for long-distance quick communication). With little effort, we can pick up this little thing in our pocket, and immediately see and talk to family, friends, or colleagues 5,000 miles away, the stuff of dreams, fantasy, or science fiction!

Freezer, refrigerator, ice cream, etc.: formerly available in the summer only to those wealthy enough to cart in ice from the mountains, or to own a dedicated ice storage house/room to store large quantities of ice through the entire summer, we can enjoy cold drinks, ice cream, and preserve food by freezing with hardly a second thought.

Electric light: for a few cents per day, we can light a room brighter than was possible by any number of candles or oil lamps, without their smell and flickering.

Medicine and medical treatment: The price or availability of health insurance, the cost of treatment (not covered by insurance) can cause a certain amount of anxiety. But in the larger perspective, most of the treatments or medicines we have access to were formerly not available at any price, even to royalty.

No worries about daily needs from year to year: as a result of stronger nations and of globalization, we don't need to worry about starving as a result of a year or two of poor harvests. In fact, pretty much the only likely situation that could arise where there would be a risk of starving to death would be in the event of a civil or world war.

A high degree of security: Unlike kings, or queens, who had a quite significant risk of being murdered, we enjoy a high degree of safety, in no small measure due to the greater overall wealth; when everyone enjoys the kind of relative wealth that you do, you'll less likely to be murdered for your money; and here violent criminals have proportionally more to lose, less than gain, than in poorer centuries or parts of the world.

All of us are incredibly rich, even when it comes to material good. So don't waste time thinking about the things your neighbors, coworkers, famous actors, or others have that you don't. Enjoy your royal, luxurious life! Or rather, and a much better thing to do, count your blessings and thank God!

Indeed, there are two even greater levels of blessings we've received. For of much greater value than this wealth of material things with which we've been blessed, are family and friends. And still more, the gift we've received of God's love. He loved us so much that he brought us into being out love, sent his own Son for love of us, to redeem us and to lead us to the fullness of life.

Beyond all material blessings, we want to thank God for this love, and in this thankfulness, to be good stewards of what we've received, and ready to share this bounty with those in need.

(This post is somewhat freely adapted from thoughts expressed in a homily last Sunday, September 10, 2017, for a Mass in thanksgiving for the harvest.)

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (year B)

Once upon a time there was a poor man, a manual laborer, who wanted to join a rich, exclusive parish community, in which everyone had a doctorate and had well-paying jobs. The pastor didn't want to refuse him to his face, to tell him that he doesn't fit in, but used various techniques to try and dissuade the man. Perceiving this, the poor man finally said he would bring the matter in prayer before God. A few days later he returned to the pastor. “So did God give you an answer?” asked the pastor. “He did,” answered the man, God said that it is useless. He said, “I've been trying for ten years to get into that community, and still haven't made it.”

My dear brothers and sisters! The conviction “we're the best” can be an obstacle to the Holy Spirit, to the unity for which Christ prayed before his death, the unity of Christians, “that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23). The unity of Christians should be a persuasive sign that God is truly with his people.
In the times of the early Christ outsiders were often impressed by the way that Christians held together: “See how they love one another other!”

In the course of history various larger divisions arose, such as that between West and East, or through the Reformation. Groups that lived their faith differently were frequently treated as unfaithful, or, when somewhat more tolerated, as the “competition.”

But within the Church too, there was and is often a competitive mentality, and a view that our way is the only one of value. Pastors that don't want to give families permission to celebrate baptisms or confirmations in another parish… parish communities that consider themselves the best, and think that the liturgy, the celebrations, even the rooms in the neighboring parishes just aren't as good as theirs… When we consider the question of ecumenism, the Church has to change, because change would be helpful for cooperation and unity with non-Catholics. But for us to change something, e.g., to celebrate the Mass a half hour earlier or later, that's out of the question!

I exaggerate, of course, but want thereby to highlight two genuinely important points here. First, you can't easily, indeed you can't please everyone. The task the Church has is an enormous one. Humanly speaking it seems near impossible for the Church to reach union with traditional, orthodox Christians as well as liberal protestants. The Church very much needs the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and of unity. We – the Church on at its levels, from the bishops to the parish communities to we as individuals – need the Holy Spirit in order to discern to what we must hold fast, what we must change, and what new approaches we must undertake, knowing that some will remain unsatisfied, because less is changed than they think should be, and others will be upset that forms of expression and life in the church that they have found to be truly good and learned to cherish are no longer maintained.

Secondly, the changes that are necessary in order to realize unity begin with us. St. Teresa of Calcutta, to the question “what, do you think, is the first things that should change in the Church,” answered simply “you and I.” An answer valid for us, too. Certainly we should sometimes seek to get other people to change. But in the first place we ourselves have to do so.

It is easy to point to purported or real flaws at higher levels the Church: the bishops, the pope should set a lower level for recognizing full, Eucharistic communion with other churches, it should accept non-catholic Christians on a par with Catholics as sponsors for baptism… it is easy, because we don't thereby have to change.

But the changes that contribute to fruitful cooperation and move towards unity with other believers, begin with us. How can we attain unity with other christian communities, if we can't maintain unity within the catholic church, if we can't leave in harmony within our own families, but fight, and even break up and go different ways?

As we celebrate the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity, let us join ourselves to the prayer of Jesus, “that they may be one!” Let us pray for his Holy Spirit for those with authority and responsibility in the Church, in the different churches and christian faith, for those who pursue dialog with one another, and for ourselves, that we live our faith in Jesus Christ where we are openly and boldly, and through looking together at Him, work together in and for the one Church. Amen.

(Reconstructed and translated from my notes and memory, with adaptions for the written form — Fr. Joseph Bolin)

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year C

Imagine that Jesus comes here today at noontime and speaks personally with each one of us. He heals every one who is sick, he takes the fear away from those who are afraid of losing their jobs, brings couples together, who are having trouble talking with each other, gives everyone what he or she needs.

We are hoping for this one day. Jesus promised that he would come again, and that we will then be completely free, completely happy.

That is something amazing, unimaginable.

Our wonder at his promise to come again gives us an occasion today to be amazed that Jesus Christ, God, was born as a child.

We get used very quickly to the various things we say and believe. We say, scarcely thinking about it: “I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God… born of the Virgin Mary.” Yet that is a startling, almost unbelievable statement.

Do we believe that?

Are we filled with amazement at this unheard-of event?

In these weeks before Christmas we enter in our thoughts into the time before Christ, the time of longing for someone who has an answer to our questions, a solution for our troubles.

We take extra time for silence, for reflection, for prayer. We want to experience this longing. We want to experience the greatness of the gift, that Jesus is born as a child for us, and in this joy to celebrate Christmas.

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

We have a saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” We see this in the gospel story for today. Many of the Jews, upon hearing Jesus's claim that he came down from heaven, that he is the true bread, the bread of life, that one who eats of him will never hunger, found this claim hard to believe. After all, they knew his parents. He had been born and grew up like everyone else. How can he claim to have come down from heaven? “He is just one of us, and he claims to be someone special?”

To anyone looking only at what can be seen and touched, to those not yet ready to believe Jesus's testimony to things unseen, it could scarcely be different. The hearers could not see Christ's divinity, could not see that he was God. They saw him as a man, and were not ready to believe anything more, despite having seen the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. So of course they are shocked by his claim to have come down from heaven, to be equal and one with the Father, to be God, the source of life for all of us!

It is a matter of something altogether different, something we cannot see, touch, or grasp, something that is above human knowledge and comprehension! Only through the gift of faith, when one is enlightened by the heavenly Father in the Holy Spirit, can one accept Jesus's words, go beyond what is visible to the eyes, believe in his divinity.

So also only in faith do we have access to the mystery of this bread. Jesus calls himself “the living bread that came down from heaven.” We need food that not only gives us strength of body, keeps us alive here on earth, but food that strengthens us for eternal life, keeps us for life forever. The Lord makes an amazing, a tremendous promise, one that we may and should accept as it stands: “whoever eats this bread will live forever.” We heard in the first reading about the wonderful power of the food the Lord provided for Elijah. This food strengthened him for a journey of forty days in the desert. This power of the food God gives, to strengthen him for forty days, is only a sign and indication of the much more marvelous power of this bread of life, the Eucharist, which strengths not for forty days, but for life forever, for eternal life.

In the Eucharist Christ gives us himself totally. He comes to us and becomes our bread, our food for that life with God that never ends. Christ's love overcame death. He who is united in faith and love with Christ, will live forever, soul and body, according to the Lord's promise: "I will raise him on the last day."

But even when we have made this step of faith, when we believe Christ's words and Christ's promise, that it is truly HIM we receive in the Eucharist, who comes to us as food, gives us eternal life, we can in other ways fall into the pitfall of “familiarity breeds contempt”. We go to Mass and receive Communion again and again; that is a very good and important thing. Still, there is a danger of it becoming a matter of routine, something we do just because it's our habit, or just because that's how we were brought up, or just because everyone else goes up to receive Communion. We can kind of forget our wonder at the marvel of this mystery, the awesomeness of receiving Jesus Christ, man and God, as food for us under the appearance of bread. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we should strive to receive with the freshness, the devotion, and preparedness of a child who receives Holy Communion for the first time, who has prepared himself a year long to receive, and who was waited with longing for the great day.

Preparing ourselves well to receive Holy Communion with love and devotion makes a great difference to what Christ can do for us and in us. If we receive Christ in Holy Communion without preparing ourselves to receive him worthily, without giving him a second thought, without using the occasion to talk with him, thank him, ask him for what we need, it is no surprise if Holy Communion does not seem to bring much change in our lives, to give us this marvelous nourishment and strength to go through difficult times, to make us better and more loving persons.

How can we receive this heavenly bread well, Christ himself, and allow him to work within us? We can receive our Lord not only with our mouths under the appearance of bread, but also prepare a home for him, the bread of life, within our hearts. When we await and receive a very dear guest, we do everything we can to make things nice and pleasant for him. He is not a matter of indifference to us; we see to him, are there for him.

It is like this with preparing ourselves for and receiving Holy Communion: we want to make ourselves conscious of who it is, whom we are privileged to receive under the appearance of bread – Christ, our Lord and God! We want to approach HIM with joy and with faith, show him by our faith and love that he is important to us, that Holy Communion is truly Communion with Him, our Lord, and Communion with all brothers and sisters in Him.

Another important way of preparing ourselves for Holy Communion is by occasionally or even regularly receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are all in need of God's grace and mercy. Anyone who says or thinks he is without sin is merely fooling himself. But entrusting ourselves to the love of God, accepting his saving hand, we can always begin anew on the way with Christ to eternal life.

In his love God has entrusted us with great treasures, treasure we are called and invited to discover and appreciate more and more deeply. Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross out of love for us; in the Resurrection his love conquered death and gave us eternal life; and in his love he speaks to us these words: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”