Friday, April 28, 2023

Tender Mercies - Patty Stark Funeral Homily


Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

Patty, being how she was, gave some explicit instructions for her funeral, and she asked that I preach specifically on mercy and hope. At the end of her life Patty thought a lot about mercy. She was so aware of the mercy she had been shown by her caregivers and family and friends, and she hoped and relied upon the mercy she believed would be shown her by God.

It is significant that Patty died only two hours after Divine Mercy Sunday. She received her final holy communion that day, her food for the journey. The message of The Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves us – all of us. And he wants us to recognize that his mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon him with trust, receive his mercy, and let it flow through us to others.

The message of mercy is hope. Mercy is giving us something we probably don’t deserve and definitely do not earn. It is a gift freely given with nothing expected in return. We can never earn God’s love or eternal life. He offers it to us freely just because we are so valuable in his eyes. And we show our love for him and appreciation of the gift simply by accepting it. We are all given that choice and all we have to do is say yes. God desperately wants us to say yes. He has gone to such great lengths to show his love for us and to give us that hope.

We Christians are people of hope. Here we are in the middle of the Easter season, where we remember and celebrate the greatest sign of hope in all of human history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for us, so that where he is we also should be. In the resurrection we see our future, and that future was purchased at a great price paid through Jesus’ suffering and death.

Jesus said that if we are to be his disciples we need to take up our cross daily and follow him. We all have our crosses to bear, and we have to take them up whether we like it or not. But we also know that the evil reality of suffering can be turned to good, because the evil of Jesus’ suffering was turned to the ultimate good of our redemption. I think Patty understood that, and she sought to offer her own sufferings up for the good of others. Just like Jesus, she did not run away from her cross, but offered it up as a prayer, a very powerful prayer. It was a way to find the mercy and the promise behind the suffering.

Most of us do not do mighty deeds, we do small things out of love. And we experience God’s mercy most in our lives through the little mercies we give to others and receive from others. Those tender mercies shown through kindness.

The mercy shown by a husband who watches over his wife for years and years, patiently protecting her, caring for her smallest needs, being a foundation of stability in the midst of chaos.

The mercy shown by a daughter who is always there, who reordered her life to be there for her mother, especially at the end. Who is a source of great strength to her father.

The mercy shown by a team of doctors who truly care and show compassion, who became true friends.

The mercy shown by friends who send little notes, bring food, and pray so fervently for a cure and for peace.

The mercy shown by the afflicted to their caregivers, allowing people to love them, to help them, to forgive them and reconcile with them.

It is those simple mercies that give us simple hope and help us get through each day. Hope that this treatment will work and when it fails, that the next one will. Hope that I will feel better today than yesterday. And even in the face of disappointment hope does not falter because of our ultimate hope. Death is a reality for us all, and we all know that no matter what we do to delay it, in the end we will lose that battle, but we take comfort in our belief that there is something more, something good and holy and peaceful, where we can take our rest after our struggles. We believe that Jesus’ death redeemed us and made an end to death itself for us all.

Patty talked a lot about unfinished business, of reconciliation and redemption, of healing, not just physically but of relationships. She prayed so hard for that. She prayed for each and every one of you in this church today, just as so many of you prayed for her.

I think the most powerful and meaningful way we show mercy to one another is through forgiveness. Forgiving someone, especially when they don’t deserve it or even don’t want it, is the highest form of mercy. And so many times it is so difficult to do so because the hurt can run so deep. And the way we best experience God’s love is through the forgiveness we receive from those we have hurt.

Patty trusted in God’s mercy. She had to. In the end, that’s all she had. That’s all we will have. Every human being has a desire for immortality. We all want to leave a legacy behind. Even if we profess no belief in God, we want everlasting life in the memories of those we have touched and influenced in our lives. Two days before she died, I asked Patty how she wanted to be remembered, and she said as being a person of hope. She said that was her final wish for each one of you, also. She wanted you to have what she had; hope based upon faith.

We all run the race. We all start from different places, and some have a harder race than others. It doesn’t matter if we veer off course during the race. What matters is how we finish. Patty ran the race and finished well, as an example to us all.

That may be the tenderest mercy.



Monday, April 10, 2023

What Kind of God Do We Have!!??

Good Friday

What kind of a God do we have?

I remember when I saw the movie, The Passion of the Christ, the first time. Probably like many of you, I was stunned by the violence, by the raw hatred, inflicted upon the person who I consider to be God Himself. A god who I believe to be all knowing, all present, and all powerful. A god who is in control of everything and obviously knows what he’s doing. And this god chose to suffer and die this way. If anyone could have prevented this violence upon himself, who could have come down from that cross if he wanted, chose not to. For whatever reasons that I will never fully understand, Jesus submitted to this when he didn’t have to. He chose to.

Just because he wanted to submit to the will of his father. Couldn’t there have been another way? Why like this? I have read and prayed and studied about it, and intellectually I can understand and give good reasons based upon scripture, but still I ask why? Why had the Father chosen this path for his son? Why was pure goodness subjected to pure evil? It doesn’t seem just. It doesn’t seem right.

What kind of god would choose to do this…for me. It is an extremely humbling thing to think that he did all that because of me. Am I really worth that?

One thing that really bothers me is injustice. Even when I watch a movie where the hero is beset by injustice, when he or she is being set up to take the fall, I get physically upset. And I think that’s a universal feeling, because all good stories seem to end with the hero winning in the end. And it’s not just because we like to root for a winner. I think it’s because we all have experienced injustice in our own lives and so need to have hope that justice will ultimately prevail. We will win in the end. There is always hope.

But what is justice? Justice is giving someone what is rightfully theirs, restoring what has been taken away. From God’s point of view justice is not getting what we deserve by our actions but what we deserve simply because he wants us to have it. It is not based upon merit but only because he has created us and has chosen to give us everything we need to know him, love him and be with him. It is pure gift. And God’s justice is tempered by mercy. Without mercy we could have no justice. That’s the kind of god we have. Because that’s what love is and what love does.

Jesus had told his disciples that he would ultimately prevail, that the Son of Man would be glorified, and that his suffering was to fulfill the scriptures, but that didn’t take away the pain and horror of seeing him tortured and crucified. It was the ultimate injustice, and while they had heard his words, the reality of that day came crashing down on them. Even his resurrection three days later did not take away that pain. Only the infusion of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost would help them to understand, to have hope, and to direct their lives fully to the will of God.

Jesus’ journey on this earth began with a young girl saying “let it be done to me according to your word” and ended with him saying “But not my will but yours be done”. Maybe the lesson of Good Friday is that we are all called to make that same choice. Your will be done, Lord. I may never fully understand the why, but I trust in you. I trust that there is a plan, that there is a reason for the way things are. You are God and I am not. Let it be done according to your will. Yes, it is humbling, but it also is liberating. Come let us adore.



Sunday, March 26, 2023

Do You Believe This?


5th Sunday of Lent

Cycle A

This is one of the most emotional gospel passages. We can feel the anguish and confusion in Martha and Mary’s exclamations, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” “Where were you, Jesus, when we needed you the most? We thought you loved Lazarus, and us. Don’t you know that with our brother gone we have lost everything? You were there for the blind man and for so many strangers, why not us? We thought we were special to you. We have been faithful to you when others have fallen away. We love you so deeply, why have you abandoned us?” Everyone around them was weeping. Jesus was weeping. It says he was perturbed, deeply disturbed. This wasn’t just a random scene that Jesus came upon. This was a planned event. Jesus knew that they needed him, yet he chose to delay in order to what, make a point?


It can seem like that sometimes, can’t it? So many times in our lives we feel that our prayers are not answered, that God is far from us. Where is he when we call out to him in our distress? Why does he delay? It seems that the darker our suffering the further he can be from us. Why doesn’t he do something? I know that he can. I know that he loves me. Why doesn’t he show it? He told us to ask and we shall receive, to be persistent in our prayers. Where is the answer? So many times, it doesn’t make sense to us.


But there is always an answer, and it is simply, trust me. You do not see the entire picture yet. Trust me. I know it is painful. It is painful to me, too. Trust me. We will never really know the reasons behind God’s actions. After all, he’s God and we’re not. And he doesn’t act on our timeline or desires. But like Martha and Mary, because we believe we are willing to accept what is and our own limitations of understanding, even when it’s hard, even in the face of death. It may not make sense, Lord, but even then, I accept it because I have that ultimate belief in who you are and what you have promised me. This pain will end, and I will rise.


 “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?”


Each and every one of us will be faced with that ultimate question of our belief. Either it will be when someone we love is suffering, or at the end of our own lives. How will you answer? “I don’t know” is not an answer. It’s not what you know, it’s what you believe. Do you believe in eternal life and that Jesus is the way to obtain it?


This is really what it’s all about. It is the core question of our existence. This is why we are Christians. Christianity is not just a way of living; it is our hope. It is the hope in the resurrection that guides us and drives us. It is what gives us our true purpose in life. If this life here on earth were all there is, why bother? If all we have is the struggle and suffering of this world and then eternal oblivion, why would we ever strive to be better, to love one another, to change things? The belief in eternal life is deeply embedded in each human being because we are created in the image and likeness of the eternal God. It’s the most natural belief in the world.


I mean, can you imagine what chaos the world would be in if no one believed in eternal life? If no one had come to show us the way and to give proof that there is more than just this life alone? You think it is bad now, there would be no order, no self-control. Everyone would just be in it for themselves, living for pleasure and power.


But that’s just one aspect of it. Can you imagine the despair that the world would be plunged into if there were not this hope that ultimately goodness, peace and justice awaits us? How could you live with yourself if there was never any hope of redemption, of forgiveness? Jesus death on the cross redeemed us and gave us the possibility of heaven. His resurrection showed us what that heaven would be. We see too truly the results of sin. It’s one thing to know our sins are forgiven, it’s another to see the result of that forgiveness.


“I am the resurrection and the life.” Life is the core of our faith, of who we are as human beings, because we were made to live, and to live fully. Do you ever ponder what’s at stake here? Do you see the hope in those words?


And it is not a false hope. God himself deigned to take on our life, to become man, not because he needed or wanted to experience humanity, but because he wanted us to experience divinity. He wanted to show us the reality of life, life here on earth and in heaven. And it is that reality that can help us accept the temporary pain and suffering we experience so often here. But even more, he wants us to fully experience the joy and love and peace and justice that is also a part of life.


This morning we will be calling forth our elect and candidates for the third scrutiny. The past two weeks and today we have heard in the gospels

three stories with the common theme of calling forth. Jesus asks those who he encounters to do something for him. “Give me a drink”. “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam”. “Lazarus, come forth”. All of our elect and candidates have expressed the feeling that are here because they have been called. Something you cannot fully express has drawn you to the Catholic Church. Over the past several months you have seen that seed grow into fuller understanding, and I think you now have a clearer idea of why you were called. You are called to the waters, your eyes have been opened, and you have hope in Jesus as the resurrection and the life.


Jesus knew Lazarus. The woman at the well was never named, nor was the man born blind. Lazarus was named. As are his sisters, Martha and Mary. Why is that? Because for Jesus it was personal. These were not some anonymous people who he met along the way. Martha and Mary asked Jesus to come. Jesus loved this family very much. He knew them by name. That’s important, because when we can put a name to someone they become familiar to us, more important to us.


You are also loved very much by Jesus. He knows your name. He knew it before you were even created. He has carved it into the palm of his hand. For Jesus, it’s personal. Your life is personal to him. He weeps over your pain and rejoices over your successes. And like Lazarus, he has called you forth to new life. He unbinds you and sets you free.