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.”

Homily for Sts. Cyril and Methodius

St. Cyrill and St. Methodius are the patron saints of the parish Church where I am live and am assigned as a deacon. We celebrated their feast as a solemnity last Sunday. The readings were Acts 13:46-49 (Paul and Barnabas saying that after rejection by the Jews, they turn to the Gentiles, since Christ has charged them to spread the Gospel to all peoples) and Luke 10:1-9 (the sending of the 72 disciples).


Today Jesus speaks in the Gospel about a harvest. Who of you (children) has harvested fruit or vegetables from the tree or vine? (Children name various fruits they've harvested.) There are many good fruits and vegetables one can harvest and enjoy. Do you know what happens to the fruit if no one harvests it? (It spoils.) Yes, first it gets a bit overripe and doesn't taste as good, then it rots and you can't eat it any more, it's no good, at least not for us, maybe bugs and worms still enjoy it.

Something like that can happen with persons, too. It's sad, but sometimes good things in people spoil and are lost, because no one recognized them, helped these persons to harvest and preserve them. There is a lot hidden within everyone. But it is to be brought out, and one needs help for that. Not everyone can already read when they are three years old. They need someone to help them learn to read. We need people, too, to help us learn to love, to have faith, to trust.

Jesus knows this situation. He says, „The harvest is great, but the workers are few.“ He doesn't mean the harvest of fruits and vegetables, but the harvest of love, trust, faith, hope. Seeds of these beautiful, wonderful things are present among men. But they have to unfold, to grow, and one has to make them one's own. Otherwise they are dry up and perhaps vanish. Jesus wants everyone to be a loving person, a believing person, one who can hope and trust even when bad things happen. But Jesus sees a problem. There are few people to help make this happen, few workers. He gives us two answers to this problem. He says „Pray that the Father send workers for the harvest.“ Our Father knows what we need, and he can see to it that the people we and others need are there for us. And he says to his disciples, “You go! Go tell the people what I told you, God is with them. He is very close to them.” He sends them out. The disciples were happy with Jesus, happy to listen to him and to his message. But they should share this happiness with others, too. Jesus gives them some advice on how they can do this more effectively. They shouldn't carry too much around with them, so that they can travel more freely from one place to another to carry the message, so that they don't have to worry constantly about their money and other possessions. They shouldn't constantly move about trying to find the best place. When someone invites them into their home, they should stay there for some time and preach the good news.

But it wasn't only those persons, who saw Jesus and spoke with him, who went out and told about him. Again and again there have been such men. Our church gets its name from two such men: Cyrill and Methodius. They were brothers, who after public life and work entered a monastery to devote themselves to prayer and contemplation, to spend time with Jesus, like the disciples did. And this was a beautiful and lovely thing to do with their lives. But a request came from the Slavic people: “Many have come to us and told us of Jesus andhis teaching. But we couldn't understand them very well. We need people who will talk to us in a way they we can understand, people who are familiar with our language, our customs and ways of doing things.” The two brothers were asked to go there and to instruct the Slavs in the Christian faith, and they accepted this mission. They considered it important that Christian faith, the bible, and the liturgy not come across as something altogether foreign forced on the people, did not want to say to them, in effect “There's our faith. If you can make anything of it, well and good. If not, we can't do anything more for you.” They put much effort into translating expressions of faith and the liturgy so that it was understandable for the people. To that end they invented an alphabet for the language. Our alphabet, the Roman alphabet, was less suited, since the sounds are so different. In this way they made Christ's message, always one and the same, the message of faith, love, and responsibility, understandable for the people there.

When we look at the Cross, we see to its right and left many cards that all say the same thing, peace, but in many different languages. In the upper-left corner, the third from the top, it is written in the Cyrillic alphabet that Cyril and Methodius invented. Christ's Gospel has to be translated into the languages of the people. But for Cyrill and Methodius, as for us, it wasn't and isn't only a matter of speaking the right language such as Italian, German, English, Slavic. It is also a matter of so speaking about the faith, so celebrating it, and so living it, as to better help people to be drawn to it and to understand it. Let us pray that, through the intercession of these two patron saints, God grant us, as a parish and as individuals, the grace to witness to, to speak about, and to live our Christian faith, which we have ourselves heard and received, so as to bring others to Christ. Amen.

Homily for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Dear brothers and sisters, we stand today on the boundary between Christmas and the liturgical ordinary time. The Christmas crib and Christmas trees are gone, we are clothed in green for the cycle of ordinary time. But the readings, especially the Gospel, continue the grace and mystery of Christmas. Jesus was born as a child, came into the world, and was revealed to it. He showed himself to the world. He also spoke and still speaks to the world, in a particular way through his call, of which we hear in the readings and in the Gospel.

"Behold, the Lamb of God!” says John. These words, which we hear at ever Mass, are decisive words. John was a charismatic man, who excited and challenged people. Disciples gathered around him. But John does not want to remain his disciples. He points to Jesus! “Behold the Lamb of God!” With this pointing he fulfills the meaning of his own life. Every one of us seeks meaning in life, and find it in various ways. But very few recognize the meaning of their life so clearly as John. He lives, he exists for one thing alone, to point to Jesus. That is the high point of his life, with which he attains the greatest joy. Now it but remains for Jesus to grow; he, John, may diminish.

What does John set in motion? At first glance it doesn't seem to be anything special. We don't hear of any great stories, any wonders, any astonishing discourses–only a few personal meetings and talks. But these meetings and talks were unforgettable. Certain special happenings – a great, unexpected success, the news of a death or assassination attempt, the “Yes” of a beloved – remain to their small details in our memory. We recall where we were, with whom, when he happened, and so on. It was this way with the disciples who encountered Jesus. This meeting made such an impression on them that they could remember years later at what hour of the day it occurred. It was the tenth hour – 4 PM. And this meeting had so inspired them that they couldn't hold themselves back; they had to go quickly to a relative or friend and say to them, “See whom we have found! He is the one for whom we have all waited, on whom we have set our hope!”

John pointed to Jesus, and the disciples followed him. They felt his mysteriously attractive power, but did not yet really know him. They wanted to know who he really is. So they ask him, “Master, where are you staying?” Where are you at home? What is it like to live with you? Jesus did not give them a quick answer, but invited them: Come and see! Or rather, come and you will see! And this answer developed a lifelong for the disciples. They learned through Jesus' words and through experience that he is a special way present in the Eucharist, as he promises “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:56) And they learned that Jesus is in all his beloved friends; he lives in us when we allow him, when we open ourselves to his love.

God calls everyone of us. But there are many forms that God's call takes. It is few who are called as successors of the apostles. It is perhaps few who experience God's call in as impressive a way as Samuel. But what is essential remains the same, that there is someone from whom we somehow hear, “See him! Listen to him! He is the one who fulfills your longing and your hope, who will make you happy!” and that we have the confidence to say this also to others. Or as in Samuel's case, “Listen to these words, to this teaching, to these thought! Thus you will be led well!” And that we are seek to learn every more intimately who Jesus, to ask him anew “Where are you staying?”, and to experience his presence with us in the celebration of the Eucharist, and in our fellow men and women.

In this Mass, let us pray that we, who have heard and followed his call to faith, may experience still more this longing to know him, and believe and experience ever more strongly his presence among us.

Readings for this Sunday: 1 Sam 3:3-10,19; 1 Cor 6:13-15,17-20; John 1:35-42

Homily for St. Stephen

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! The day before yesterday, in the evening, and yesterday we celebrated Christmas, the feast of Jesus' birth. We contemplated the little child in the crib, sung "silent night", heard the tidings of peace for the world. And suddenly today, in stark contrast, we are clothed in blood-red vestments, we hear of the bloody death of Stephen, and of Jesus' warnings of persecution, death, and hatred for his name's sake. Is there a connection between Christmas and the martyr Stephen? How are we to understand this? Does it mean we shouldn't take the beauty and the peace of Christmas too seriously? It is a nice story, but the reality is different…?

This interpretation would be incorrect. The Church's long tradition of celebrating the memorial of St. Stephen after Christmas does not serve to demote Christmas, but to continue it, and to manifest more clearly an important meaning of the Christmas celebration. Jesus became man, became a child, so that he might also find a place in our hearts. We say that visually presented here, where the Christ child is lying in the heart… [regards the scene in the Church Cyrill and Method]. We fully understand Jesus' birth only in light of his being born in man's heart, in our heart. So after Christmas, the birth of the small Jesus, we contemplate also the birth of the Church, the Church as a child.

Now when Jesus comes to dwell in our hearts, that cannot remain without effect. It really makes a difference whether we let him in or not. When he who can do all things dwells within us, he transforms our hearts, and thus makes a difference in our attitudes towards one another and toward life. We see that in St. Stephen's life. As one of the first deacons he had a twofold task. He was assigned to the service of the tables, the "service of love" to the poor, so that the Apostles would have more time for preaching. But since he also the gift of preaching, he should also perform this ministry of truth. And Stephen, trusting in Jesus, devoted himself whole-heartedly to these tasks. He was stoned to death because his preaching of Jesus as the Son of God was considered blasphemy. Now, we might think that if Stephen, more considerate of the understanding and passion of his Jewish brothers for the oneness of God, had spoken more carefully about Jesus, he would not have been stoned, he could have continued to preach Jesus, he could have done more good….
But St. Stephen make no compromises concerning the truth. He proclaims the Jesus who revealed himself and whom he had come to know. But he does not proclaim this truth by way of violence or hatred, but in love and in self-giving. Until the last moment he forgives the men who kill him. As Jesus prayed for those who killed him, so St. Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not count this sin against them!” And his witness, his death was fruitful for the Church. The remembrance of this witness, for example, probably helped Saul later to accept Christ's message, and thereby to become the great Apostle Paul.

St. Stephen is an example to us of faithfulness to Jesus, an example of holding fast to the truth in love, of the way we all should and want to go. This way is not always easy. It is not always easy to avoid deviating too much in one or the other direction: to give up truth for the sake of love, or to give up love for the sake of truth. Sometimes one hears that faithful Christians, in order to be tolerant, must abandon the claim to truth, must not proclaim or hold the faith as truth or even as true, for that leads to intolerance and to hatred. But the example of St. Stephen shows us that the world needs the witness of the truth, and that it is possible to preach this truth in steadfast conviction and yet without violence, but in love and in self-giving.

Let us pray to Jesus, who came into this world as a child, that we have the courage and the wisdom to profess our faith in our family, in our workplace, wherever we are, in a convinced and convincing and loving manner, as St. Stephen did. Amen.

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

We are all invited to work in the Lord's vineyard. But the Lord does not force anyone. He only invites. If someone doesn't want to work, or wants to only under his own conditions, he does not have to do so. In the Gospel we heard a parable about persons who wanted to work only under the stipulation that they themselves would dispose of the vineyard and its fruits. When we hear this story, we might think, how could they be so stupid? How could they think, if we just kill the owner's son, he'll have to put us in his son's place? What kind of madness is this?

It may be easy enough to criticize the men in this parable at a comfortable distance. But I think Jesus is here pointing to a real danger, a danger also for us. When we really want something, we want to see it through. And it is good that way. We shouldn't be like jellyfish, unable to stick to anything with firmness. But this desire to see things through carries a danger with it, that we become blind to reality: we see only the way that we imagine for ourselves, the way on which we have decided—whether or not that way is the right one. Let's imagine the tenants again, with a bit of imagination: they thought to themselves: “It is unjust for the owner to take such a portion of the fruit for himself, though he hasn't been around working on the field, harvesting the grapes, etc.” And when he sends his servants to get his portion, they think, “We must be strong. We must resist, in order to get our rights.” And they beat the servants. When the owner sends still more servants, they think, “He is simply deaf. He won't accept that the fruits belong to us.” And they are completely confident, they have to just resist still more steadfastly. Finally, when the owner sends his son, they think, “If we kill him, then the owner will have no other choice. He'll have to make us the heirs, if he wants to keep the vineyard running.” All quite logical. But a view of the whole is lacking. They are not the only ones who have to live from the fruit of the vineyard. And everything does not depend on them.

This image is perhaps a bit fantastic. Nevertheless I believe the core is true, and a real danger. They wanted to push themselves through, and became blind to the reality, to the actual situation with the owner, the vineyard, and the other persons involved. And we are all, without exception, tempted in this or that field to push our own will through, instead of listening to Jesus's will, and are in danger of losing sight of the reality that is expressed in this divine will. We see this perhaps more clearly in larger, tragic cases: perhaps someone enters into an ill-advised marriage against the advice of parents, friends, and spiritual father, and winds up unhappy, or someone gets involved in drugs despite knowing it's not really the right way, or the insistence on the right to dispose of one's own body and to determine one's family as one wills leads to a father and mother killing their own child. These are the more obvious cases. But we are all tempted to it in smaller, daily cases.

To take this attitude to its ultimate completion is the worst thing that can possibly happen: that instead of us saying to God with joy and without reservation, “Thy will be done!”, God has to say with sadness, “Thy will be done. You do not want to live for my kingdom. You do not have to, and if you do not want to, you shall not.” This outcome at the end of today's Gospel reading, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you” (Mat 21:43), is like God's “last resort”, what he does when everything else is in vain. Only when God has done everything, and we still refuse to accept his will, would he say to us, “Thy will be done.” The reverse side, or the opposite of this terrifying possibility is presented to us in the Letter to the Philippians. If we do not lose sight of God, but place everything before him, all our concerns and our worries, and listen attentively to him, his peace will fill our hearts. Someone makes a sacrifice for his family, sticks by a friend in a difficult period, gives up his own will to serve and to do God's will, and finds therein deep peace. In this celebration of the Eucharist let us make especially consciously this prayer, which we pray frequently in the Our Father. “Thy Will be done!”

Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:9). As soon as anyone thinks he has God totally figured out, he is posed to discover that it isn't true. Granting that his insight into the ways of God is basically correct, God is still different, and even greater than he imagines. When God spoke through Isaiah, some persons seem to have thought: when someone abandons God, then God abandons him; his chance is over. To this God responds “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”(Isa 55:8). However long someone has been distant from God, let him return to the Lord, and he will find mercy with him.

In the Gospel (Mat 20:1-16a), too, we hear of he God who is very different from how we think. Jesus tells a parable about a household as a likeness for the Kingdom of the Heaven. At the beginning of the story nothing unusual occurs. At first sight we could even get the impression that the man wants to pay no more than necessary to get the job done. Only when he sees that he can't complete the day's work without more laborers, he goes out again to the market place to look for more workers. It was also not unusual to hire workers without previously agreeing upon a set wage. He would then have to pay the minimum wage customary in the region. But at the end of the day he surprises everyone by paying all the workers the same wage, one denarius, a usual wage for a full day's work. We heard how the man who worked the whole day were rather annoyed that they didn't get anything more than those who had only worked a single hour. The vinegrowers union might have also had a complaint against the owner: he disturbs the labor market, takes away motivation from the workers to work a full day, and thus makes it more difficult for the other winegrowers to get good work done. But God is no finance manager. He is a lover, and wants to give to everyone who comes to him. The last workers were as needy as the first. They needed just as much for their families as the first workers needed, and he gives them just as much.

This parable is given us as a complement to the promised reward for the following of Christ. Just before the parable we heard today, a young man came to Jesus and asked him what he had to do in order to gain eternal life. Jesus said, keep the commandments: you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, etc., and above all, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The man answered that he had done all these, and asked what he still lacked. Thereupon Jesus invited him to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and to follow him. But he didn't want to do this, and went away sad. Peter, perhaps to be sure that, as Jesus promised the young man treasure in heaven, that the disciples also would receive a reward for following Jesus, and perhaps a bit proud that they had followed the call to discipleship, asked: “We have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” (Mat 19:27) Jesus answered: “You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mat 19:28-29). God does not let any love and service to his kingdom go unrewarded.

But immediately following this, Jesus warns against self-complacency with one's discipleship, and against the temptation to set limits to God, and on account of this promise to classify people into two sets: the people that are following Christ, and are going to receive this reward, and the people that have left him, and will not receive this reward. God does not so quickly give up. He does not act as a businessman who wants to get as much income with as little expenditure as possible. He wants to give, and he constantly invites all, so that he can give to all. The first places in heaven, if we can speak in this way, belong not to the bishops, priests, deacons, pastoral assistants, and those who put in the most hours for the kingdom, but to those who most of all recognize their own neediness and open themselves to God's love. Amen.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A)

"I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). Had Christ, has Christ really accomplished his work? Was he not only just beginning it? After nearly 2000 years Christians are still practically beginners in the recognition and realization of his message of the kingdom of God, his message of love, forgiveness, salvation… not to mention the many persons who reject this message as foolishness.

Wouldn't it have been smarter for Christ to have remained on earth after his resurrection? Then we wouldn't have the problems in the Church that arise from human weaknesses and failings. The Church wouldn't have to be led by bishops and popes who also make mistakes. There wouldn't be as many people who follow erroneous paths. If Christ had remained, had continued to work wonders, thus clearly demonstrating his divinity, there wouldn't be problems with disbelief and lack of orientation. Christ could have accomplished everything so much better, if he had only remained with us… so we could think to ourselves. So did Christ's disciples perhaps think. “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

But would it really have been so? What would the Church and the world really look like, if Christ had remained visibly with us? The place where one could meet Christ would be a pilgrimage site like none other, like Jerusalem, Rome, and Mecca packed into one. Every Christian would dream of meeting Christ, of being privileged to speak with him, to make a confession to him, to ask him what is God like, ask him about his vocation, etc…. But there would not be enough time for this. Even if each person only had a single second with Christ, it wouldn't be possible for every person to get a chance once in his life. Only privileged persons, who could afford the journey, would be able to meet him. Or it would be organized so the poorest persons, or the greatest criminals, or something of the kind, could meet. But at any rate, not everyone would be able to.

Christ disperses all such visions, such ways of imagining God's presence among us! His glory is not here or there. It is a glory that surpasses time and place, a glory he had with God “before the world was made” (Joh 17:5). When we are united with a person by love, and have to depart from him, this means a separation. Our thoughts remain with the beloved, but we ourselves are distant from him. With Christ it is different. He entered the glory of the Father, a love that is pure reality. For “God is love” (1 Joh 4:16) as John never tires of repeating. His departure into glory in fact means that he is really, continuously with us.

Christ ventures still another step, that we would never have thought up ourselves. In his prayer he asks the Father, and declares, that he is glorified in us! In seeking the presence, the glory of God we must not only not look to a particular place such as Jerusalem or Rome, we must also not look merely to the beyond, e.g., heaven. The eternal life that Christ gives us is not somewhere over there. It is here! It is now! Certainly it is very important, and a comfort to believe that there is a life after death, a life that has no end. But just any kind of life that were to go on without end would probably become at some point boring, tiring, even unbearable. The essential point is this: Christ gives us a life that is totally worth living, without ifs or buts.

Let us value this life! Let us live it! And like Christ's disciples after his Ascension, let us pray for the Holy Spirit, that he make this life blossom in us, that our joy in life as Christians become ever more visible, so that we too become radiant witnesses of Christ's resurrection.