Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost Homily

Last evening and today I celebrated four Masses in South Dakota prairie towns--Faith, Red Owl, and Mud Butte.  These places are served by a Polish priest who is part of the Rapid City Diocese and who went back home to visit his family.  He has quite a trek every weekend.  He lives in Faith and on Saturdays he drives over 60 miles to Red Owl for 4 PM Mass and then on Sundays he drives 40 miles to Mud Butte for 10 AM Mass.  Here's the homily I preached:

I want to begin with a question, but you're going to have to listen closely to it.  Do you have any "thems."  You know, as in "us" and "them." 

In the late 1960's when I was in high school, I was given a little reflection book by Malcolm Boyd entitled "Are You Running With Me Jesus?"  One reflection went like this:  "The definition of charity: No Them."

Our first reading (Acts 2: 1-11), the story of Pentecost, shows how diverse "Jews and converts to Judaism" from all over heard about "the mighty acts of God" in their own language as the apostles, uneducated Galileans, preached the good new of Jesus Christ to them.  The Holy Spirit had performed a miracle that brought about unity in the midst of the diversity of many languages.  All were able to hear and understand the Gospel.  All were included.

In the second reading from chapter 12 of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, we hear that all--"whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons"--are chosen to be part of the Body of Christ.  No one is excluded.  The Church has no "them." 

This is God's plan for humanity--a unity amidst diversity.  Humanity is made in the image and likeness of God.  God, as we will reflect upon more in next week's feast of the Most Holy Trinity, is a mystery of  One and Three.  God is Three Persons and One God.  There is diversity in the Divine Nature and unity.  Thus humanity, made in this image, is meant to be diverse but one.  We are not created to be the same or to be isolated individuals. We are made to be a communion of persons.  In God there is no "them," only "us." 

This unity amidst diversity is the work of the Holy Spirit, the bond of Love between the Father and the Son.  The Spirit unites us to God and to one another, making us one.  No "them."

In the Gospel (John 20: 19-23) Jesus said that the Father sent him. He was sent to reconcile humanity to God and with one another. 

The word "reconcile" comes from a Latin word which means "to make friends again."  Where sin separates us from God and one another, causing a break in our friendship, Jesus came to restore friendship.  Friends do not see each other as "them." 

As members of the Body of Christ we are now sent by him and empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue his work.  The apostles and those ordained after them continue this work through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  However, all the baptized are sent to bring about reconciliation.  We do that by forgiving one another, by works of mercy, and by our penance.  The idea of penitential prayers and acts is to balance out the wrong in the world with good, to repair the damage of sin. 

But what about the last line of the gospel: "whose sins you retain are retained?"  What sins are retained? 

It takes two to reconcile.  People may hurt you and you go to them to tell them that you forgive them.  But if they look at you and say, "I didn't do that; I didn't say that" or if they minimize the hurt by saying "Hey, that was nothing; get over it," then reconciliation has not taken place.  The hurt, the sin, has been retained.  You were ready to forgive but they were not ready to receive your forgiveness.

There may be instances where reconciliation doesn't happen because people do not admit their sin or excuse it.  They are not able to receive mercy.  Neither God nor we can force them to accept it without their realizing they need it and want it. 

Our responsibility is not to impose reconciliation on others.  It cannot be forced.  However, we must always  be ready to forgive, to make sure there is no obstacle in our hearts to reconciliation--no resentment, no bitterness.  In other words, we must never see others as "them."  We must pray for their conversion so that they will see their need for mercy and receive it.  God wants everyone to be reconciled--to be friends of God and one another. 

In the end, in heaven there will be no "them."  There will only be "us"--humanity reconciled in the Body of Christ. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Union with God and One Another

I am at St. Nicholas church in Valentine, Nebraska this weekend.  All of Nebraska celebrated last Thursday as a holyday of obligation, the feast of the Ascension.  So today we are celebrating the 7th Sunday of Easter.  Here's my homily:

Imagine: at the Last Supper Jesus thought of you and prayed for you.  That's what today's Gospel (John 17: 20-26) tells us.  It says: "Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: 'Holy Father, I pray not only for them [the apostles], but also for those who will believe in me through their word...'"
And what was Jesus' prayer for us?  "That they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me."

These are Jesus' last words to his apostles, his farewell address, before going to his death. Jesus prayed that they and we might be one with him and one with each other.

That makes sense.  If, as the first book of the Bible Genesis says, we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we are made not to be isolated individuals.  Rather, reflecting the loving communion that is the divine nature, we are made for communion.   We are created for union with God and the communion of saints.

And this communion is essential to evangelization, to spreading the good news of God's love.  Jesus said that the world will believe that Christianity is true when it sees Christians in loving union with one another, a union that is grounded in their union with God.

What makes this union possible?  First of all, the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and the Son.  This is the mystery of the Holy Trinity which we will celebrate in two weeks.  Next week we will celebrate Pentecost, recalling the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary gathered in prayer in the upper room.  The Spirit came with great power in the form of tongues of fire.  It was the fire of love that united those who received that outpouring of the Spirit.  Those who saw the effects of the Spirit were amazed to hear the apostles preaching the good news and to understand them, even though they came from diverse countries and spoke and understood diverse languages.

The Spirit brought them together.  The people understood the preaching because the apostles spoke a universal language, the language of love.

Love usually involves feelings, but it is more than an emotion or sentiment.  It is ultimately an act of the will in which one desires the ultimate good of the other person no matter how one feels about him or her.  We see this in the First Reading (Acts 7: 55-60), the story of St. Stephen's martyrdom.

I don't know how Stephen felt about the people who stoned him to death, but I would suspect he didn't like them.  Yet, he loved them.  How do we know this?  Because he prayed for them, saying "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."  He prayed for their salvation, not their condemnation.  He prayed that they would experience God's mercy and be converted.

This was a powerful prayer for their conversion that was joined to Stephen's sacrificial suffering.  And it had a great effect on one of those present--Saul.  Stephen's prayer was a channel for God's mercy to one day reach into Saul's hear.  It led to a conversion.

Do you remember that conversion?  Saul was on the road to Damascus intending to round up Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains to be imprisoned and tried.  He encountered a blinding vision of the risen and ascended Christ on that road.  And what did Jesus say to him?  "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"  He didn't say, "Why are you persecuting my Church?"  Nor did he say, "Why are you persecuting my followers?"  He asked "Why are you persecuting ME?"  He was confirming a teaching that he gave in a parable that we find in Matthew 25: whatever we do or do not do for or to one another, we do or do not do for or to Christ himself.  Jesus was teaching Saul that we and Jesus are one.  He is the Head and we are the Body.  We are in union with Jesus and one another just as the parts of a physical body form a one flesh union.

And that brings us to the second way that we enter into union with God and one another--through the Holy Eucharist, a mystery that we will be celebrating three weeks from today, after we have celebrated Pentecost and the feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

See how it all fits together, these three feasts?  We have the mystery of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit to whom Jesus was referring when he said in today's Gospel: "Righteous Father, ... I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them."  The Holy Spirit is, as we said, the love between the Father and the Son. The Spirit reveals to us the mystery of God, Three in One, the Holy Trinity in whose image we are made.  And in addition to the Holy Spirit bringing us into union with God and one another, there is the Holy Eucharist which brings about a one flesh union with Jesus, God-made-flesh, and communion in the Body of Christ, the Church.

Now the challenge is to live this oneness with God and God's other children.  This is what Jesus prayed for at the Last Supper.  There are so many divisions among Christians. There is so much conflict in the world.  The answer to Jesus' prayer begins here, with you, with me.  Like Stephen we are called to pray for our enemies, those who have hurt us.  We are called to let go of resentments and pray that there may be healing in our relationships.  And we are to pray for those people in other parts of the world who hate us and want to see our destruction. We pray for their conversion, that they may come to know the love of God, receive that love, and be brought into union with God and us.  We pray for their ultimate salvation..

This was so important to Jesus that in his final words to his apostles, before going to his suffering and death, he made this his prayer.  It is so important to him that from time to time he sends his own Mother to beg us to pray for the conversion of sinners.  Only when the prayer of Jesus is realized in us, in the Church, and in the world will there be peace.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

B.I.B.L.E.

In today's first reading at Mass (from the Book of Nehemiah, chapter 8) the Israelites gather to listen to Nehemiah proclaim the Word of God.  They hear God's Law, the way that God showed them to live so that they would be safe and prosper.  What was their reaction when they heard the Word proclaimed?  They break into tears.  Why?  They grieve because they realize that they had not followed God's Law and the result was disastrous. God's Law gave them directions but they ignored the directions and lost their way.

How do Nehemiah and Ezra respond?  They say, "Do not be sad, and do not weep."  They tell them to celebrate: "Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength."  Basically they are being told: "Don't look back.  Don't dwell on the past, nor on your failures.  Learn from your mistakes but don't dwell on them.  Be joyful because now you know better.  You can make a fresh start."  

Every Sunday God's Word is proclaimed in the Church.  In fact, every day we have an opportunity to hear or read God's Word.  But do we listen?  The statistics say "no."  In 2008 the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) took a survey of U.S. Catholic adults.  The good news is that when asked if they had a Bible in their home 87% answered "yes."  The bad news is that when asked how often they read that Bible in the past year 32% answered "never" and 31% answered "a few times."  Apparently their Bibles were heirlooms in which to record significant family events and then to sit on a shelf gathering dust.  

Another, informal survey found that the average Christian, including those who described themselves as "Bible-based" Christians, spent more time in one evening watching T.V. than the rest of the week reading the Bible.  In other words, if one watched 3 hours of television on any given night, 3 hours or less were spent during the entire week reading God's Word.  What does that say about what is forming the minds, the hearts, the attitudes and values of the average Christian?  

We need to hear God's Word as much as the people of Nehemiah's time did.  I have a CD that was created with music from the Great Jubilee Year 2000 World Youth Day.  It's called "One" and it includes a song written by Steven Delopoulos and John Philippidis called "Basic Instructions."  The "basic instructions" are found in the Bible which can be said to stand for "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth."  The Bible--God's Word, God's Law--is our guide book for how to live in a way that leads to the Kingdom God has prepared for humanity from the beginning.  

The Bible is not the sort of book that one can say, "I've read it several times.  I know what's in it.  I know the story and how it ends.  There's nothing new there for me."  The Bible is unlike any other book.  We do not read the Bible for information nor for entertainment.  We prayerfully read the Bible for "formation"--to have our minds and hearts formed by the "living Word" (see Hebrews 4: 12).

With today's technology there are new and convenient ways to make Scripture more a part of our lives.  I have an app on my phone that can be found at www.downloadjesus.com.  I also receive  two daily email messages that briefly reflect on the Mass readings.  One is from a group called "Presentation Ministries" ( https://www.presentationministries.com/obob/obob.asp ) and the other is from Bishop Robert Barron  ( https://dailycatholicgospel.com/sign-up-daily-gospel ).  

But the Eucharistic celebration is a special time and place where Jesus is alive, speaking to us through the Scriptures.  Then, having our hearts set ablaze by the Word present in the Scriptures, Jesus opens our eyes to His special presence in the second part of our celebration, the breaking of the bread (see Luke 24: 30-32).  The Word becomes flesh on our altars.  The bread and wine are transformed into Christ's Body and Blood.  

In this way today's Gospel (Luke 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21) is fulfilled.   Jesus proclaimed a passage from the prophet Isaiah and announced "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."  It's as though Jesus is saying: "Today you are not only hearing the Word of God you can see that Word in the flesh.  You can see the one about whom Isaiah was speaking. You can see this Word standing in front of you accomplishing what was described."  

At Baptism we were joined to the Body of Christ.  This was not a mere enrollment into a human organization.  A divine and organic union took place.  And when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, His very flesh, in Holy Communion, that baptismal union is nourished and strengthened.  We are not individuals alienated from one another.  We are, in the words of the second reading (1 Corinthians 12: 12-30) parts of One Body, the Body of Christ.  We belong to one another.  We need one another.  We cannot exist apart from one another and our Head, Jesus.  We are one and a sign to the world that unity and the peace that follows from it are possible.  Only sin separates us from the Body, from Christ and one another.  

Hearing this Word that God speaks to us today and seeing this Word made flesh and joining Himself to us, we go forth to fulfill the Word as Jesus did.  We go and live the Word that is spoken, seen, and received.  We hear God say to us through Nehemiah "Do not be sad."  Do not look back.  Do not live in the past regretting and resenting.  Be joyful.  Live in the present and be God's Word in the lives of others, one day at a time.  




Sunday, November 11, 2018

Giving All with Love

I became an uncle at the ripe age of seven and so I wasn't much older than my nieces and nephews.  Sometimes when I played with them and had a toy of theirs, they would grab for it even if their own hands were filled with toys.  They had to let go of one in order to have the one they wanted, the one that I had.

I thought of that in the light of today's Mass readings which teach us that it is only the empty hand that can receive.  Or as the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi goes: "It is in giving that we receive."

Our first reading (1 Kings 17: 10-16) tells the story of how a non-Jewish widow helped the great prophet of Israel, Elijah.  She was dirt poor.  She had only a hungry child and a little oil and flour.  There was no "safety net" in her society.  A terrible drought had ravaged the land.  She was about to prepare a final meal when Elijah came along and asked her for water and food.  Something about the prophet moved her to give away part of her food.  She could have held on to it, not shared, and then, it would indeed have been her last meal.  But her charity to the wandering Jewish prophet opened the way for God's power to perform a miracle.  The jug of oil did not run dry and the jar of flour did not go empty for an entire year.

In the gospel (Mark 12: 38-44) we see another widow.  We see her in contrast to religious leaders and wealthy people who make a show of putting large amounts of money into the temple treasury.  Ashamed of how little she has to give, she tries to put two small coins into the treasury hoping no one will notice her meager offering.  But Jesus notices and praises her.  The others gave vast sums from their surplus, from what they could afford to give and not experience any threat to their lifestyle.  She gave sacrificially, from what she could not afford to give.  They gave for show, to win the attention and admiration of the crowd.  She gave for one simple reason--for love of God.

Perhaps Jesus saw in her a reflection of himself.

Like her, Jesus did not hold back.  He gave all.  He gave his very life, sacrificing it on a cross.  And he continues to give all.

Every celebration of Mass makes present that total offering of Jesus on the cross.  As the second reading (Hebrews 9: 24-28) says, he gave "once for all."  He does not need to die again and again.  But in a mysterious and miraculous way he makes that "once for all" offering of himself present in every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  And after making this offering present to us, he gives himself totally to us--body and blood, soul and divinity--in Holy Communion.  He holds nothing back but gives himself totally to each one who receives him in the Eucharist.  This gift of himself, which we receive with open hands and hearts, gives us the ability to love as he loved.

How can we give all to God?  Let me make a few practical suggestions.

First, at every Mass, as the bread and wine are placed on the altar and then lifted up as the Body and Blood of Christ, we place ourselves on the altar and join ourselves to Jesus' perfect offering of himself to the Father.  It is important to be aware of this, to consciously unite ourselves to Jesus' offering as he is lifted up and makes his total, self-sacrificing offering of himself present to us.  It's also important to have an intention for which we are praying as we join our offering to that of Jesus.

Second, we are called to live, in our daily lives, the offering we make with Jesus at Mass.  This is where a Daily or Morning Offering Prayer can help us.  It can be as simple as waking up and, before getting out of bed, thanking God for another day and offering that day to God.  We can tell God in our own words that we want to offer every thought, word, and deed of the day; every breath and beat of our hearts; every prayer, work, joy, and suffering of the day in union with his total offering on the cross and at Mass.  Then, during the day, especially when we encounter something challenging and difficult, something frustrating and painful, something we would rather not have to face or do, we can renew the offering, telling God that we are going to do this thing we have to do out of love for God and neighbor, as an act of love and for the salvation of every human soul.

Those things that we offer to God may seem very small in comparison to great acts of love for God, like martyrdom.  They may seem very insignificant.  But remember the two widows.  The widow of Zarephath offered the little she had and her charity led to a miracle.  And Jesus said the widow in the temple gave the most because she gave her all out of love.  What matters to Jesus is not the amount, but the love that motivates the giving.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

A Spiritual View of Anorexia Nervosa

When I was given a copy of the book "Little Girl Crying" by Belinda Rose I was intimidated.  Not by the subject: anorexia nervosa and how the author came to complete healing through prayer.  I was intimidated by its length.  I wondered how I could squeeze in the time for this large book in the midst of my busy life.  I can honestly report that finding time was not a problem.  This book reads like a thriller but instead of "who done it?" the question in this fast-paced account of the causes and the struggle of anorexia is "how will she ever come out of it?"  In the course of 450 pages I came to a better understanding of anorexia and more.  Let me highlight three other lessons that can be learned by reading "Little Girl Crying."

First, the struggle with anorexia nervosa is a paradigm for all human struggle.  Deep down, in every human being, there is a hunger, a hunger to be loved, a longing to know that one is lovable.  Human loves can satisfy that hunger for a while but they do not ultimately fulfill us, for, as St. Augustine wrote: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."  We are made with a hunger for an infinite love that no finite, human love can satisfy.  Only God's love can because God is an infinite love by nature.  Until the author discovered this truth through contemplative prayer she continued a self-destructive cycle of binge eating and purging, always convinced that she was fat and unlovable even at 70 lbs.! Whatever one does or does not do to fill the hunger for God will fail unless God is the object of one's desire. 

Secondly, I was reminded of another book, "Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood" by Wayne Muller.  As a drought forces the roots of a tree to go deeper or the tree will die, so the struggles of childhood can lead one to sink deeper roots.  Deeper into what?  One's relationship with God, certainly, but also into one's relationships with others.  Belinda Rose's struggles ultimately led her into deeper relationships with her three sons, her mother, and others who struggled with psychological illnesses.  From deep pain can come, with God's saving grace, greater compassion and more joy, so much so that Rose can say, like many in 12 Step Recovery Programs, she is ultimately grateful for how her disease led her to these deeper relationships. 

Thirdly, one of the key elements of healing is forgiveness.  Past hurts can leave one bitter.  But bitter unforgiveness and resentment are the fuel that drives the engine of addictions and anorexia.  When it is not dealt with, emotional hurt festers and grows, morphing into an anger which, for those who feel vulnerable and helpless, is turned in on itself.  It's been said that resentment is like drinking from a bottle of poison and hoping that the person who hurt us will die.  As she began to deal with the painful memories that stoked her disease, Rose developed empathy.  A key moment came when she began to understand what led her father to hurt her as he had done.  She learned the truth that "hurt people hurt people."  She prayed and forgave and healed.  In time she learned to imitate Jesus in his redemptive suffering.  Jesus--totally innocent--was hurt and abused.  He suffered terribly but offered his suffering as a powerful prayer to the Father and saved the world.  Rose learned to use her sufferings for others as Jesus did. 

I highly recommend "Little Girl Crying" in order to understand anorexia nervosa and so much more.  Its lessons are universal, for hurt and the need for healing--both individually and globally--are universal. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"That These People May Live"

Today's Gospel (Mark 10: 35-45) is preceded by Jesus' third prediction in Mark's Gospel about his impending suffering, death, and resurrection.  What is the apostles' reaction?  Confusion?  Upset?  No, they are only focused on themselves.  James and John want seats on either side of Jesus when he comes into his reign.  The others are jealous and angry at this request. 

How sad Jesus must have felt at all this.  Yet, he uses this moment to teach the apostles and us about true greatness.  It does not involve honor and power.  It does not seek a position in which people look up to you.  That is not the way of Jesus, nor is it the traditional Lakota way.

Last night I finished reading a book about the great Lakota leader Crazy Horse--"The Journey of Crazy Horse" by Joseph Marshall III.  Marshall emphasized the humility of Crazy Horse that led him to sacrifice himself for his people.  He wrote: "He understood that what is accomplished in the name of and for the people belongs to the people." 

This is the spirit behind the Sun Dance, the great Lakota ceremony in which people make offerings of their flesh or a pierced so that the people may live.  They offer themselves and their flesh for the good of the tribe. 

Jesus did this so that all people may live.  He sacrificed his flesh so that all people would be freed from sin on their earthly journey and freed from death when it ended. 

Jesus humbled himself.  He--the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity--emptied himself of glory, position, and power and came among us as a weak one.  As the second reading (Hebrews 4: 14-16) says, he was a compassionate high priest, able "to sympathize with our weaknesses" because he "has been similarly tested in every way" that we are.  He knows the struggle. 

In the end, he sacrificed himself on the cross.  In the words of the Gospel, he gave "his life as a ransom for many."  He took our place, freeing us from slavery to sin and to death.

Our first reading (Isaiah 53: 10-11) comes from the fourth "Suffering Servant Song" in which the prophet predicts the Passion of God's Son.  A few verses earlier, Isaiah wrote that the Servant of God would be "pierced for our offenses."  He offered his flesh that all people may live.

Every celebration of Holy Mass makes this sacrifice present.  Jesus, the Head, renews his perfect offering and invites us, the Body, to offer ourselves with him that "these people"--those present, family and friends, national and ethnic groups, and even our enemies--may live.

On October 29 we will remember the first anniversary of the death of a good man who offered himself for others.  Fr. Bob Gilroy, S.J., was born in 1959.  After college he worked in a school for the blind.  He went back to school, earned a degree in art therapy, and then entered the Jesuits.  For ten years, at one time or another, he served the Lakota people at St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud and at the Sioux Spiritual Center where I worked with him.   He was a hospital chaplain, a spiritual director, and instructor in art therapy.  Like Jesus, he was a compassionate priest because he shared in people's weakness.   He suffered childhood diabetes, many resulting health problems, and a kidney transplant. Throughout, he kept his smile and distinctive laugh.   

In closing, let me share with you a poem that he wrote to accompany one of his paintings.  In its simplicity it reminds me of the lyrics of Lakota songs:

Christ is everything.
Stay close to him.
There is nothing else to do. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Your Choice: Gehenna or To Be With Jesus Forever?

In the Gospel at Mass today (26th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle B) from the 9th chapter of Mark, Jesus mentions "Gehenna" three times.  What's this "Gehenna?"  It's an actual place.  Before the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land, other peoples had used this valley outside of Jerusalem as a place to offer child sacrifices to their idols.  The Jews considered it such an unholy and unclean place that it was good for only one thing--burning garbage.

Jesus used "Gehenna" 11 times in the Gospels as an image for hell. 

Hell is not something you hear about much.  It does show up as an expression of anger or hatred.  We use it to condemn our enemies or someone who has done a particularly heinous crime: "I hope they rot in hell!" 

For many it's hard to reconcile hell with a good, all-powerful, and infinitely loving God.  How could God send anyone to hell?

God doesn't.  People choose it. 

The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" says that the "state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'" (#1033). 

And Pope St. John Paul II said that hell "is not a punishment imposed externally by God" because "God is the infinitely good and merciful Father" who "can only desire the salvation of the beings He created" (General Audience, July 28, 1999).  God can only will or want our good.  But God cannot force that ultimate good of heaven upon us.  Love must be free.  God cannot force people into heaven.  They must freely choose to go.  And if they choose not to go, then there must be another option for them. 

There are some things that are simply incompatible with heaven.  There is no room for the jealousy that we see Joshua exhibiting in our first reading (Numbers 11: 25-29).  Nor is there room for the injustice and greed that James talks about in the second reading (James 5: 1-6).  There is no room for sin in heaven. 

Professor and author Peter Kreeft, who teaches at Boston College, has a shocking remark about this.  In his book "Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing," he says that "God does not forgive sins."  Then he goes on to explain that God "forgives sinners and destroys sins" (186).  That makes sense.  God loves sinners and hates sin.  God sees how much sin damages our relationship with him and with one another.  It hurts and damages our very selves and leads to all kinds of misery.  So God wants to free people of their sins and throw them into the garbage dump of the cosmos--hell. 

I grew up fearing God, that God would send me to hell.  I thought that if I were running to church for Saturday afternoon confession in order to get rid of a moral sin and got hit by a car I would hit the greasy shoot to hell. 

I have a different idea now.  It seems more and more clear that death is a process rather than a moment.  We see this from near death experiences in which people have, for all practical purposes, died; their brain waves have stopped as well as their hearts.  And they somehow return to tell stories of an experience of a life beyond this life. 

I believe that no matter who we are and what we believe we all meet Jesus face to face as we die.  And he asks us one question: "Do you want to be with me forever?"  We might hesitate, feeling shame and unworthiness for our sins.  But Jesus presses on, asking us again, "Yes, I know, but do you want to be with me forever?"  Or we might ask if we can be with him on our terms, holding on to something that has no place in heaven.  Jesus will tell us we can't bring that in; we have to let go.

This is so important to Jesus that in today's Gospel he tells us that if we're holding on to something sinful, it would be better to cut off our hand so that it and the sin we cling to do not prevent us from entering his Kingdom.  Or if we hold on to sin with our eyes, we should pluck them out because that sin does not belong in heaven.  It's garbage that needs to be thrown away.

We might wonder: how could anyone say "no" to Jesus' invitation?  I think of how people can hold on to bitter resentments.  I can imagine people answering "yes" but then, as they cross the threshold of heaven they see someone who has hurt them terribly or an enemy.  "What's he doing here?"  Jesus answers: "He admitted he had done wrong and asked for my forgiveness and I forgave him."  And the response could be: "Well, you may have forgiven him for what he did to me but I will never forgive him. I would rather rot in hell than to spend one minute much less eternity with him." 

We are here on earth for one thing: to learn how to live in heaven.  In heaven there is no selfishness, no lustful using other people for one's pleasure.  There is no greed and injustice, no envy or deceit.  There is no racism and hatred.  There is no unforgiveness. 

We have to let go of those things here.  We need to throw out the garbage, lest we end up clinging to it in the cosmic garbage dump that Jesus called Gehenna.  We don't want anything to stand in the way of answering immediately and whole-heartedly "YES!" when Jesus asks us "Do you want to be with me forever."