Ascension Church

Homilies from Sunday masses

homily, April 16, 2017


I. I have a dog named Chucho. He’s eight months old, my second pug. My first, Max, lived with me at the Basilica, and had the Mass schedule down. Whenever I’d head from my office into the church, he was on my heels, hoping to sneak in with me before the plate glass door slammed shut. That failing, he sat, pug nose to the door, stone-still, like the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, staring into my absence. Passersby tried to console him, moved as they were by his more-pathetic-than-usual pug face. One sacristan invariably told him, “He’s never coming back.” But Max was unfazed: he just sat and stared and waited.


One imagines Mary Magdalene doing the same at Jesus’ grave, the place she had to leave him. When she arrived for the third day of her sitting and staring and waiting, he was gone. All she saw was his absence.

II. While we profess with our lips that Jesus is risen, we too often act as if he’s dead. We sit and wait and stare at the tomb, hoping for some razzle-dazzle. We persist in our fear and despair, our stubbornness and self-assurance, our judgment, meanness, and violence, and we shrink from the greatest civil rights challenges of our times. We muscle through, trying to carry on without him. We look for him in the tomb — but he has moved on ahead of us to Galilee. It’s there the disciples saw him again. They became much more than they were before: stronger and wiser, more daring and loving. They became more like him. They became him. They finally understood why Jesus had to die: so that the Christ could rise.


III. Blessed Oscar Romero says that, “Christianity is not a collection of truths that one has to believe, of laws one has to keep, a list of prohibitions… Christianity is a person that loved me so much that he demands my love. Christianity is Christ.” The Christian lives in a way that wouldn’t make sense if Christ wasn’t alive and acting through us: bold, courageous, humble, with a strength and power beyond our own. We live as if death is behind us, because it is.


So, for those distressed at the state of affairs in their family, the community, our country, the world; and in the face of poverty, racial injustice, and the threat of deportation; or with our own spirits weakened from the struggle against despair, we do not retreat from faith and its practice, but stride more deeply and resolutely into our life with the Risen Christ, our only hope. If we are risen with him, we will endure his Passion, our Passion, with him. Let us come with faith to the banquet of the Lamb, our Passover, our life, the true and risen Body of Christ, spirit and power, fire. Sharing his banquet, we pass with him from death to life, from despair to hope. Alleluia!
h/t: Thomas Merton

Homily, April 2, 2017


I. Woody Allen says, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”

The ancients used to wrap their newly dead the same way they wrapped their newly born: swaddled in strips of cloth. Wrapped as such, it must have been difficult for Lazarus to make it out of his sepulcher to the entrance of the cave. As dramatic as those words, “Lazarus, come out!” are, it’s what Jesus says next, after his friend finally appears, swaddled head to foot, that always touches me: “Untie him and let him go free.”

II. The promise of Lazarus, the grace that brought his new life, transforms all the dyings we endure, everything from which we need to be unbound; it frees us from our tombs—those of our own construction or those we’re consigned to.
How many of us want the Lord to “untie” someone we love, someone who needs to be freed from whatever binds them. How many of us have begged the Lord, “Untie me”?

• Untie me, for I am bound with an addiction—food, alcohol, drugs, work, play—addicted to impatience, gossip, anger, negativity.
• Untie me, for I am bound to privilege, racism, self-righteousness.
• Untie me, Lord, from my anxiety and fear—fear of the different, the difficult, afraid to stand for, or speak out.
• Untie me, Lord! And let me go free.

III. Resurrection isn’t merely an ultimate, extravagant, end-of-life miracle. Resurrection is the transforming presence of Jesus Christ alive in us this very moment. Eternal life is a reality we can possess now, a quality of living that is beyond death’s reach, more durable than death’s grip. The risen life is resilience, it’s a strength beyond our own, a power we didn’t know we had.
As Jesus asked Martha, he asks us: “Do you believe this?”


Homily, March 26, 2017

I. I’m always a little bugged when someone makes a point of telling me that they’re “spiritual, but not religious”—because, of course, “religious” is what I do. Or perhaps I’m afraid that I’m “religious, but not spiritual.”
Some people steer clear of religion, I would guess, because of Pharisees. Every religious institution has them: those who don’t hesitate to judge what is of God and what is not. Barbara Brown Taylor describes them as “law-abiding, pledge-paying, creed-saying, theologically correct people who can spot a heretic a mile away.” Jesus regularly encounters those types, those who have all the answers, who are certain that they see.
Today, a blind man regains his sight—not an uncommon occurrence in the gospels—and the Pharisees are baffled, determined to get to the bottom of it. The situation didn’t conform to what they thought they knew about how God behaved. Their presumptions prevented them from perceiving the hand of God right in front of their eyes. The blind man himself couldn’t explain what happened, but he knew it was real. Unencumbered by ideas about how God was supposed to work, he was free to experience God’s amazing grace.


II. Richard Rohr says that human beings do not naturally see: we have to be taught how to see. That’s what religion is for. Jesus is not present in the Eucharist alone: he’s always and everywhere present; we’re in his presence before we get here and after we leave. But here we remember, we recall that presence that we lose sight of, say, 99% of the time. The Eucharist corrects our vision: we learn to see the presence of God that always and everywhere is.


III. God is never absent: what’s absent is our awareness. When we’re aware that Jesus sees us as he saw the blind man, and that we are always in his sight, we begin to see.


Homily, March 19, 2017


I. A friend once shared with me her experience of the Sacrament of Penance, going back some 30 years. On that occasion, she was reluctant to confess something in particular, embarrassed by what she’d grappled with time and again. After nervously confessing her struggle, the priest said to her, “Me too.” She’s never forgotten that healing moment.


II. For the Samaritan woman at the well, the glare of the noonday sun allows for no secrets. She can’t hide the truth of who she really is. Jesus “gets” her: he sees her clearly and regards her with dignity. He addresses her past both knowingly and compassionately. Unaccustomed to such tenderness, the rules and taboos and fears that distance her from the Jewish man at the well evaporate.


This is a story of the healing and transforming power of love and, in light of that love, the emergence of one’s essential identity. Jesus evokes in the woman a self-appraisal that lifts her above and beyond the disfiguring circumstances of her past. In response to such regard, she becomes not only a disciple, but an evangelizer: many came to believe in Jesus because of her word.


III. Writer Paul Elie suggests that the Church is not, first of all, a “school for obedience,” a transmitter of moral laws. Rather, he says, the Church is, above all else, the “point of entry for the Christian adventure”—as it is for our catechumens, our elect, Yoshio, Yoselin, Yahir, Kevin, Kevin, and Kevin, Kalindi, Julian, Jonathan, Jason, Flor, Dayhana, and Alexander, soon to be baptized. They embody the meaning of Lent for us: they compel us to return to our baptism, remembering that we belong to God. For them, and for the rest of us, the Church is first and always the sacrament of our encounter with Jesus Christ—a well of living water—where we discover and develop our essential identities as beloved children of God, disciples and evangelizers. By coming to know Jesus—the embracing, empowering, loving manifestation of God—we come to know who we are: the embraced, the empowered, the beloved, no matter our gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or immigrant status.


The incarnation of Jesus, his passion, death, and resurrection, and perhaps the entire Christian enterprise, can be crystallized in two words: “Me too.”


Homily, March 5, 2017


I. After I sat down to pray on Friday, I found myself thinking how badly I wanted a peanut butter cookie. And then I ran through my schedule for the day. And then I thought about the weird noise that the dog was making. And then I became preoccupied with others’ much more significant preoccupations: the immigrants who constantly agonize about the fate of their children. This flurry of activity in our heads is called “monkey mind,” a concept that goes all the way back to Buddha, who described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, screeching, chattering, carrying on, all clamoring for attention.

II. All alone in a desert, you’d expect to suffer a pretty serious case of monkey mind. So it was for Jesus. The devil’s cajoling exploited Jesus’ spiritual struggles and vulnerabilities. In the face of the tempter’s chatter, Jesus neither fights nor flees. Considering that he was facing the Prince of Darkness, the conversation is remarkably gentle. Still wet with his baptism, Jesus remained confident and true to who he knew himself to be, the apple of his Father’s eye. He faced temptation calm and steady, grounded in his experience of divine love. He would go on to face all the trials and sufferings of his life, including death, in the same way. He lived out of his soul.

III. Whether in the desert, a prayer room or the kitchen, or right here in church, our monkey mind is always active, distracting us, testing us, tempting us, luring us away from who we really are. The monkeys pose a thousand-and-one “what ifs” and “should haves,” kicking up anxiety, doubt, and fear. They exploit our vulnerabilities, enticing us to satisfy with so many pacifiers those appetites that only God can answer. And, for the same reason that the Spirit led Jesus to the desert they present us with innumerable opportunities to reach into the resources to resist temptation: God and grace.
We must decide to what we’ll surrender: a cookie or prayer, the monkeys or God, death or life.


Homily, Feb. 5, 2017


I. A refugee from Afghanistan was recently making a presentation to a church group, compassionate people, eager to learn how to help him and other immigrants and refugees in these very difficult days. After describing the desperate situation in Afghanistan, he said something that stunned his listeners. He said, “I have no hope. I have no hope that things in my country will ever improve. I’m sure they’ll only get worse. I’ve lost all hope.” The people assembled were speechless. What could they say? If there was no hope, what could they do? Nevertheless, they asked, “What can we do?” His response? “Do something. Just do something.”
I wasn’t there and I don’t know the man. But in his exhaustion, desperation, and hopelessness, I hear his frustration with others expecting him to come up with the solution. “Don’t keep coming to me, asking what you can do. I’m out of answers. You figure it out. Do something.”


II. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is more motivational than admonishing. Jesus tells us that we are the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” He’s not exhorting us to be salt and light: he is declaring us so. These are not commands, but commendations. The salt and light are already in us, always there. Jesus continually reminds us that we are something we don’t realize, with potential that hasn’t been activated, and a calling that hasn’t been heeded.


III. Isaiah’s words are likewise challenging and to the point. He says that it’s not good enough to give food to the poor, but to “share your bread with the hungry”: to sit down, perhaps, and share a table. It’s not good enough to give money to the poor, but to “shelter the oppressed and the homeless”: to welcome them to your home. It’s helpful here to understand “you” and “your” as “y’all” and “y’all’s.” Indeed, in the Gospel, Jesus doesn’t address the single “you,” but “all of you.” It’s a communal call to be in relationship with those on the margins. What we can do as a body!

Among the countless slogans in twelve-step programs, there’s one I should get tattooed somewhere. It says, “If you want to feel self-esteem, do something estimable.” Not something prestigious or acclaimed, but something worthy of esteem. You are salt and light. Do something.

Father Dale Korogi


Homily, Jan. 29, 2017


I. “Mission: Impossible”: the 1970s TV series featured the IMF, the Impossible Missions Force, an espionage agency that attempted the impossible, undoing the worst international criminals and crime rings. They always won. Aren’t the Beatitudes of today’s gospel something of a mission impossible? Is the world view that Jesus portrays, a world that begins with the poor and oppressed, the stuff of fantasy, of another world? Are such hopes realistic?


II. In a day when the practice of nations, governments, and gangs battling to the death for supremacy is more common and deadlier than ever, Jesus’ soaring Sermon on the Mount, in which his teaching and preaching is crystallized, is as much or more of an earthquake today as it was 2,000 years ago. Jesus upends accepted standards and politics with a wisdom that confounds convention: that truth is found at the margins. He maintains that the poor offer a warmer welcome to God than the rich; that the hungry find God faster than the full; that weeping opens the way to divine comfort; that hatred and rejection enable one to know the mind and motivation of Jesus himself. Jesus not only questioned the established order, he regarded it perverse. He opposed it, he resisted it, he turned it on its head. In the end, they had to kill him, so that privilege, power, and prestige might prevail.


God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.


Maybe that’s why the powerful so fear the powerless.


III. If we are to follow Jesus’ lead, that is, if we are Christian, we will always find ourselves at odds with policies and philosophies that fight to be first, that bully and batter the weak, that erect barriers and build walls. If that is the established order, then we must oppose and resist it. Yesterday, I attended, with many of our Ascension community, an event of prophetic resistance at Shiloh Temple, a peaceful but strong response to local and federal policies and philosophies that bully and batter the most vulnerable among us. Here at Ascension, we are committing to weekly public prayer with and for those who are most threatened by this country’s devastating rejection of refugees and immigrants, with those who are in solidarity with them, and for all the marginalized near us and among us. Standing in faith and prayer with the hungry, the weeping, the stranger is central to our identity as Catholics, and what Ascension has done for 127 years. Mission possible.


Our opposition to injustice and resistance to power will exact a price. “They will insult you and persecute you and utter every evil against you because of me. Blessed are you!”
h/t: Monika Hellwig, Peter Woods


Homily, Jan. 15, 2017

I. I used to have a quote of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taped on the wall above my desk. Somewhere in my move from southwest Minneapolis to north Minneapolis, I lost it. I’ve shared it with you before—three times. Let’s make it four. In 1957, Dr. King said,
It may be that the great tragedy of this period…is not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the appalling silence of the so-called good people. It may be that our generation will have to repent, not only for the diabolical acts and vitriolic words of the children of darkness, but also for the tragic apathy and crippling fears of the children of light.


Children of light—that’s us, supposedly—are crippled by fears because we don’t accept the truth that we are children of light. We resist our transformed reality as baptized disciples of Jesus Christ, the continuation of his incarnation and epiphany.


II. Today, Jesus is heralded, not by a heavenly voice, but by the human voice of John the Baptist. John becomes the road sign: “This is the way to salvation; this is what you’re looking for.” What did John possess to be a key witness? Despite the fact that he was a little nuts, he saw Jesus—he got it. His enlightenment was the awareness that Jesus took away the sin of the world, that is, whatever separated us from God. In our time, God depends not on angels, stars, or doves, but human witnesses. Despite our inevitable doubts and limitations, and imperfect lives, and even though some of us are little nuts, we’re all that Jesus has. We who have seen Jesus, we who “get it,” are called to be light.


III. So, on the eve of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, will we, the children of light, confront our “tragic apathy” and “crippling fears?” Can we commit ourselves to doing the hard work of challenging the structures that perpetuate white dominance, white privilege, white supremacy—call it what you will—in our lives and relationships? A friend of mine who happens to be black didn’t know quite where to start when discussing these matters. She said that she can’t even find a Band-Aid close to her skin color.


In the communion line at Mass yesterday evening was a parishioner, the back of whose t-shirt read, “Black Lives Matter.” The woman just behind him wore a button with the saying, “’Tis a blessing to be Irish.” In our beautiful, diverse community, we have a head start: we love each other. How wonderful if it can be said of us, “Behold the sons and daughters of God, witnesses to Jesus’ love, children of light!”


Homily, Jan. 8, 2017


I. The magi, as their “magical” label suggests, were sorcerers: astrologers, stargazers, sages. With only a rumor to go by, and that alluring star, the threesome were headed to Jerusalem, the center of power—but they ended up nine miles south, in Bethlehem, the center of nothing. They stumbled upon Jesus and were dazzled by God’s unconventional manifestation in a feeding trough. It may have been a “chance” encounter, but it was anything but casual. They couldn’t dismiss this compelling epiphany: they couldn’t go home again, they had to go another way, transformed by the encounter.

II. A signature theme for Pope Francis is his call for a “culture of encounter.” A culture of encounter reaches out, fosters dialogue and communion among different cultures and ethnicities, and especially with the struggling, the alienated, and the poor. For him, encounter, or encuentro, isn’t just a meeting, but a communing: a meeting of minds and hearts. While so many encounters in life are casual, one now and then can be an epiphany. We cannot dismiss it: we can’t go home again. We have to go another way, transformed by the encounter.

III. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops has designated today as “Immigration Sunday,” the start of “National Migration Week.” This year’s theme is, “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” What a singular opportunity we have at Ascension to champion such a culture. Here’s one opportunity: after next Sunday’s 9:30 Mass, we will have a forum here in the church to help us to learn more about the situation of our immigrant parishioners. Call it “Immigration 101.” Our presenter will be Catalina Morales, from ISAIAH, a faith-based organization that works for racial and economic equity in Minnesota. As the new year begins, it is my hope that our entire community will work together to walk with and protect those immigrants among us who feel threatened and afraid. Ascension has been a safe and loving home for immigrants and refugees since 1890. This can’t be accomplished without an “encounter” with the immigrant, without dialogue and communion with them, without loving them. When we know and love them, we will walk with and protect them.

Before we ditch the poinsettias and wrap up our Christmas journey, let’s resolve not to return to our post-Incarnation lives unchanged. The incarnation of God in the flesh is not merely an idea or an event, but an epiphany. We can’t go home again. We have to go another way, transformed by the encounter.


Homily, Jan. 1, 2017


I. Like those whose birthdays fall on major holidays, Jesus has to share his big day. This Octave of the Nativity was traditionally the Feast of the Naming of Jesus, until it became a celebration of Mary’s motherhood. Then the World Day of Peace was added. Most of us simply consider it New Year’s Day. It’s four feasts in one.

II. First, Mary: She deserves her own big day for all that she’s been through. We’re told today that Mary pondered all these amazing happenings “in her heart”—not in her mind or head, but her heart—in her body, her flesh. Jesus cannot be relegated to our thoughts, theories, or theologies. He lives in our flesh, our actions, our lives.

III. The Naming of Jesus: At a Jewish boy’s circumcision, eight days after his birth, he’s given his name. And so, Jesus became Jesus: a name that declares “God saves.” The name of God was not spoken by the Israelites: it was deemed too holy to utter, too transcendent to be translated into human language. Our relationship with God is forever changed: we’re now on a first-name basis, intimate, immanent — God-with-us.

IV. In his message for this, the fiftieth World Day of Peace, Pope Francis reflects on what he calls “active and creative nonviolence” as a style of politics for peace, as a way of being an “artisan of peace.” He quotes his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who said,
For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior, but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the “Christian revolution.”


V. It’s appropriate to ponder all these facets of the Christmas mystery at the start of a new year. A line from the Rule of St. Benedict is appropriate: “Always we begin again.” Our resolution as Christians is always to bring what we ponder to reality, to incarnate Jesus’ presence in the flesh, to resolve to be Christ-bearers, like Mary.


“Always we begin again.” Happy New Year!