Saturday, May 19, 2007


Friends, I’m especially grateful to our pastor Fr. Joseph, for the chance to preach today, on my last weekend here at St. Anne-St. Augustin. The friars have assigned me to our parish in Yonkers, New York, where your own pastor’s predecessor, Fr. John, is pastor. I will be moving there in the coming days. Thanks to your prayers, I will eventually serve there as priest.

Preaching today gives me the chance, even though I have been with you only a short time, to tell you how and why I am grateful for the opportunity to have prayed and walked and broken open the Word of God with you over these past nine months.

As I thought about how I could express my thanks to you, the people of this parish, I thought—just trust me on this one—I might start with original sin.

I say this because I think one of the most debilitating consequences of original sin is our frequent inability to notice what is good in us. Instead of rejoicing and being grateful for our good points and the things we have accomplished through cooperation with the grace of God, we often tend to focus instead on our faults, on our failures, on the things about us that aren’t quite as they should be. And this goes both for us as individuals and as communities.

Therefore it is a great grace to have in our lives people who will remind us of how good we are. We all need folks around us to remind us the action of grace in our lives. That’s part of what friends are for. I know personally that it’s one of the great things about having my religious brothers. Though I don’t have the experience myself, I imagine that this is one of the graces of marriage as well, to have someone who will quietly insist to us that we are irresistibly loveable, even though, sometimes, we can hardly believe it ourselves.

So, as I finish up my time here, I want to try to do exactly this for you. In case you don’t see it, and in case it would be good to be reminded, I want to tell you, from the point of view of one visitor to your parish, what it is that makes this place so loveable and so graced by the Holy Spirit of God.

Now I’ve spent just about my whole life in the Order in multicultural and multi-lingual parishes. Even when I was a novice among the cornfields of Wisconsin, there were old folks in church on Sunday speaking to each other in German. In both New York and Boston I have served in parishes with a Spanish-speaking majority. So I’ve been around the multicultural block, as it were.

Now nobody knows how to do this multicultural thing real well. It’s awkward, almost by definition. And yet, here, in this place, I have seen, more than anywhere else I have ever been, the willingness to risk, to try, and experiment, and to learn.

In most places, different language and cultural communities are happy to co-exist. But you are doing more—reaching out to each other, hearing each other’s stories, praying with each other to the one God. And I want to tell you today that this is a tremendous grace that you have going for you here. It’s a hopeful stab at the unity that is God’s own desire and dream, not only for little parish of St. Anne-St. Augustin, but for the whole world. This is the very prayer of the Lord himself in today’s gospel, that all might be one as he and the Father are one. Rejoice and be grateful for your hope-filled response to God’s own dream of unity!

Recall the visions of the prophet Isaiah that we hear so much during Advent. Isaiah prophesied that all nations would come streaming to God’s blessings. And as we know, this hope is fulfilled for us in Christ. In Christ, the promises made to the little nation of the Israelites become the hope of all peoples of all times. And the final fulfillment of these prophecies comes in our second reading today, as people from all nations, having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, enter through the Tree of Life—the Cross—into the New Jerusalem.

What I want to tell you today is that when you gather here for the Eucharist, and especially when people of different cultures and languages—all the nations of the world, as it were—process up to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, to affirm and receive communion with the Lord and with one another, these words of the prophets and these visions of Revelation are being fulfilled here and now. Rejoice and be glad, for this is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is here.

If the prophet Isaiah were here today, I have no doubt he would praise God to see the fulfillment of his vision of different cultures streaming to the Lord’s blessings. And if John, the author of Revelation, were to see the communion procession of the people of God here at St. Anne-St. Augustin, I have no doubt that he would rejoice, and see in you his vision of the saints processing into the New Jerusalem.

So, be grateful to God for the work of the Spirit in this place. Your faith and willingness are answering the Lord’s own prayer for the unity of those who believe. And for my part, I want to thank you for the chance to meet you and to be edified by your faith. I go forth better for having known you, and encouraged in the Lord. Thank you.

(7th Sunday of Easter, C, Last Sunday at St. Anne-St. Augustin)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Peace I Give You

It’s hard to believe that we are already coming near to the end of the Easter season. Easter is the longest of the privileged liturgical seasons, but it seems to go by the fastest.

And as we come to these last Sundays of Easter, we’re aware of a real shift that has occurred in our celebration of the Easter mystery. At the beginning of Easter we recalled with joy the Resurrection appearances. We celebrated the fact that the Lord is risen from the tomb.

But in these later Sundays, we celebrate the mysteries of how the presence of the Risen Lord is with us now. This started in earnest two weeks ago on Good Shepherd Sunday, when we heard about how the presence of Jesus continues to guide and lead us in our lives. Last Sunday we celebrated the new commandment to “love one another” as Jesus Christ has loved us.

Today we hear of another great gift and presence of the Risen Lord among us: Peace. Jesus, as he is preparing his disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit, tells them not be troubled or afraid—he is giving them the gift of peace. And we have that beautiful expression that we use in every Eucharist as we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

The active, positive presence of peace wherever it is found, whether it be among friends, within families, or among nations, it is a “real presence” of Jesus Christ, Resurrected and risen anew for the new life of the world.

But notice! The Lord makes a critical distinction when he makes this gift of his peace. He says that he gives us his peace, but “not as the world gives do I give it to you.” So what’s the difference between the peace the world gives and the peace that is the presence of Jesus among us?

Here’s an example of the so-called peace that the world gives. When I was in college I had a girlfriend, and, as sometimes happens, her mother did not approve of me. And one day, she took me aside, and here’s what she said: “Charles, my daughter will love you no matter what you do. But I won’t. Therefore, you might as well do what I say because then you will be pleasing to us both.”

She was offering me a peace treaty, and you can’t argue with the logic. But it’s the peace the world gives, the cheap peace that says, “You and I can be at peace, as soon as you come around to thinking and acting the way I think you should.” And we do this kind of thing to each other all the time, and we mistakenly call it peace. When politicians announce peace at the end of a war, it’s not the real peace that is God’s gift, but simply the fact that one group of people has succeeded in forcing another around to their way of doing things, their way of using resources, or their form of government.

This happens in religion too, as is painfully evident in the first reading today. In the apostolic Church there were struggles between the older, Jewish Christians, and the newer converts, who had not been Jews. And as we heard, the original, Jewish Christians were trying to say that theirs was the only way of being a Christian. They said: it’s great that you gentiles want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but you have to do it our way.

So thank God for Paul and Barnabas, who had the courage of the Spirit to say that were not going to hold back the grace of God by saying that there was only one way of being a Christian. Without denying the beauty and validity of Jewish Christianity, they found compromises that allowed others to come to the Lord as well. They found a way to make peace.

Too often we let ourselves be tricked into thinking that peace is a kind of absence. We think of peace as the absence of conflict, or as the absence of any difficulties or problems that interfere with our own plans and needs.

Real peace, the peace that is Jesus’ gift to us and is his risen presence among us, is so much more than that. It is a powerful and active force, bubbling up like a leaven for the renewal of all creation. It is the power that can make us brave enough to forgive each other. And it will encourage us to risk the vulnerability that lets us ask for and accept forgiveness for the many ways we have hurt those around us.

“My peace I leave you, my peace I give to you.” Let us rejoice in the Risen Lord’s gift of peace, the peace that, should we accept it, will break our cycles of violence and revenge, and will re-create the world according to the “original blessing” that is the very happiness of God.

(6th Sunday of Easter, C)