Saturday, August 27, 2016

Humility and the Freedom to Love: A Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
August 28, 2016

Picture it: a hyper-active seven-year-old boy at a large family gathering at his grandparent’s house. There’s music, and laughter, and lots of noise and fun, but being the only male cousin, and being significantly younger than everyone else, the boy is feeling left out and unnoticed. So he grabs a turkey baster from the kitchen drawer, stands on a chair, and screams at the top of his lungs, “Can I have your attention please!” And the result? Absolutely nothing. He was expecting the crowds to turn their complete attention to him and to hang on his every word. But nope. People looked over at him, chuckled in a condescending way, and went back to their fun. Soon enough the boy’s mother would come over to him, take his turkey baster microphone from him, and tell him to “go play.” The boy was mad and embarrassed, and sulked off to a corner where he convinced himself that he should probably run away and join a family where he’d be appreciated.

In case you’re wondering, that little boy was yours truly…and no, I didn’t run away, but I did learn a little lesson in humility that day. Everybody knew, except me apparently, that a little kid has no business trying to gain full command of a room of adults. Unless you’re on fire or choking, a seven-year-old is meant to be “seen, and not heard,” right? Let the adults drink coffee and talk about Aunt Susie’s new wig behind her back in peace…you just go find something quiet and clean to do. Many of us here probably experienced this “growing-up” dynamic to a greater or lesser extent: we were taught as children to learn our place, and if we over-stepped we could end in a crushing display of humiliation. We were all being taught the tough lessons of humility before we had ever heard the word.

Our readings this weekend are all about humility. Our first reading from Sirach gives us some pretty explicit advice about how to grow in humility and in our Gospel, Jesus paints a nice little picture for us of what happens when we think too much of ourselves and act on it. And the price we pay for our pride? Embarrassment, shame, and humiliation. We know these are the guaranteed results of pride, and yet we continue to fall into the same old traps. How many of us use Facebook, for example, as a subconscious ego trip? How many of us brag about our jobs or our education or the vacations we’ve taken or how enlightened we are? How many of us get angry or passive aggressive when we’ve been slighted even in the smallest of ways because we thought we deserved much better? C.S. Lewis famously said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” And this is where the real struggle with humility occurs for most of us. Most of us don’t think that we’re so fantastically wonderful and that the world should cater to our individual needs. The reality is more grave…I think most of us are so desperately longing for love and attention that our lives can become consumed with thinking about ourselves and how to fill ourselves up. And we become more and more willing to risk the embarrassment, shame, and humiliation of stepping out-of-place in the off-chance of getting it.

“My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” This is how Sirach begins our first reading, and I think he’s trying to remind us of what is really lurking behind most of our pride and our failures in the humility department. It was my loneliness and the lack of attention I was receiving that caused me to stand on that chair with a turkey baster, and if I’m honest with myself, most of my other humility failings throughout my life were brought about by the same thing. “Each one of us has a God-sized hole in our hearts,” my grandmother used to tell me, “and nothing and nobody but God will ever be able to fill it.” See pride is just one of so many ways that we try to fill that hole. Our efforts to get people to look at us, appreciate us, affirm us, and love us…we’re just trying to fill that void, we’re trying to carve out a place for ourselves, and we’re trying to make the loneliness go away. And yet the more we try, the more damage we can end up doing.

My grandmother had it figured out though…we’ve got to fill that hole, we’ve got to feed the hunger of our hearts, but we’ve got to turn to God to do it. Only through a vibrant faith life – a life of prayer, a life of trust, and a life of holy abandonment to God – will we ever be able to love and to be loved as we so long for. When we can wake up every morning knowing, truly knowing, that God loves us, we’ll be able to take the burden off our ourselves and others to accomplish that love for us. We’ll be able to exist in the freedom of being able to turn outward with the gift of our own love rather than feeling petrified that we’re under-loved. This is a work that only God can do in us. What we have to do is allow Him, with His grace, to break us of these habits of disordered self-love so that there is room for Him in us and that His love in us may be complete. The result of all of this is a truly humble person who is free to give little to no thought of him or herself because they know they have already been loved and filled…the result is a truly free person who can focus all of his or her energy on loving God and others.

Our Lord looks to us today, as He looked to the host who invited Him to dinner in our gospel, and He calls us to humility and freedom. He invites us to be radically and completely loved by the Father – so much so that we don’t care where we sit or how esteemed we are of others – and to love the way that He loves – loving them no matter where they sit in life or how esteemed they are. As we approach the sacrificial banquet of His love in the Holy Eucharist today, we pray earnestly that this good work will be accomplished in us.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

No...Heaven is Not an Eternal Golf Game: A Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Twenty-First Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
August 21, 2016

Quite some time ago I said prayers at the funeral home for a man we’ll call John who, unfortunately, had passed away early in life. It was a sad situation…he was only in his mid-fifties and he was divorced and estranged from his children. There were not more than a half a dozen people at his funeral…a few distant relatives, a few friends, and his one brother. Loneliness and depression had made their claim on John long before the cancer that took him did, resulting in a lonely funeral for a sad man. My heart ached for him even though I had never met him…it ached because of what his life had been, what his life could have been, and it ached for what his eternal life might be. After the prayers were finished, as we were heading out the door, I stopped and shook the hand of John’s brother, who was lighting up a cigarette. I offered him my condolences and told him that since we didn’t have a funeral Mass for his brother I would offer a private Mass for him later that week on my day off and asked if he might like to join me. He looked at me kind of puzzled and said, “Don’t put yourself through all that trouble, Father, it’s no big deal. John’s okay – he can have all the free cigarettes and beer he wants now!” As he laughed, I mustered a smiled and told him that it was no trouble at all and then made my way to the car. As I drove back to the rectory, the heaviness on my heart grew greater as I considered the thought that I might be the only person on earth who will pray for John. A man forgotten while he lived would be forgotten in death, remembered only for his vices in this life. God would take care of him, or at least leave him be to do what he loved, so all is well and case closed.

Now thank God that situations like these are rare, right? Most people get a great grand funeral, with lots of people, lots of flowers, beautiful music, and touching eulogies. Memories are shared, tears are shed, and luncheons are had. There are visiting hours, funeral limousines, the best caskets, amazing head stones, the works! The majority of funerals I do are like this…they fitting send offs for good people. But behind all the external loveliness and beauty of most funerals lurks the same problem that I felt at John’s less-than-beautiful funeral. Who is there in our society, in our culture today, who remembers to pray for the dead? How often do we say that grandpa is playing golf in heaven or that grandma is playing high-stakes bingo? How often do we simply imagine our deceased friends and loved ones being reunited and having a grand old time in the halls of heaven? We so easily reduce the blessedness of eternal life to the ongoing and unending enjoyment of whatever someone loved in this life, and we so easily consider it a given that this is the default that happens to all who have died.

In our Gospel today, though, Jesus is painting a different picture for us of what life, death, and eternity look like and how they relate to each other. Someone asks the Lord, “Will only a few be saved?” and Jesus answers him plainly, not by saying yes or no, but by saying that it’s tough. The gate to eternal life is narrow, He says, and that many think they’re fine to get in but discover only when it’s too late that they couldn’t do it. They trivialized and belittled eternal life by treating it like a booby prize for a life generally well-lived, and as they run foot-loose and fancy free through life, eating, drinking, and being merry, accumulating for themselves many things, they get to the gate only to be disappointed. Why? Not because it’s a heavy gate, not because it’s surrounded by some treacherous obstacle to overcome, but because it’s so narrow. There is room only for the unencumbered human person…to go through it you have to let go of everything you’ve accumulated: every vice and sin, every worldly attachment, and you have to want nothing more than communion with God. Heaven is not in any way shape or form an endless buffet where you don’t get fat, fluffy clouds that you can bounce on forever, or a lovely place with fat little cherubs playing harps. Heaven is so much more than anything we can want or imagine in this life. It is complete and total and blissful union with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with all of those who have gone before us who enjoy this same union with God. Heaven is a gift, but it is not a given. It is for those who choose it, who want it, who allow themselves to be given this gift through the merits of Christ’s Passion and Death. It is for those who are willing to throw aside everything and to follow Christ through the narrow gate.

When we pass from this life and go before the Judgment Seat of our merciful Savior, we’re going to know immediately – without the pleasure of lying to ourselves or to Him – whether or not we’ve lived this life striving to enter through the narrow gate. For those who haven’t, our Lord will give them exactly what they want: the opportunity to live for all eternity without Him. But for those who have, our Lord will help them, by His grace, to finish the work He began in them. He will help them to let go of their attachments, any residue of sin, and He will purify their entire selves so that they can joyfully enter through that narrow gate into the unimaginable life of eternal communion with God. There they will be completely free to love and to be loved intensely and infinitely by the One Who is defined by Love. There they will be completely free to love and to be loved by all others who love and are loved by God: the angels and all the saints. Heaven is not simply an experience of eternal pleasure, it is the eternal experience of complete love.

As Catholics we pray for our dead because we know that for those who want to enter into eternal life, who want to enter through the narrow gate, the work of holy abandonment and the shedding of all things that would prevent us from loving and being loved in complete freedom is tough, it can be painful, but it must be done. Whatever clings to the soul in this life must be purged either in this life or the next. By our prayers for our beloved dead, we assist them with our love…helping them to experience that anything they cling to pales in comparison to the holy union of love that God calls them to. Remembering grandma or grandpa, telling stories and laughing and crying, it’s all good and healthy, but we must remember to pray them through the narrow gate with our love.

The love that God calls us to is meant for everyone…the good and the bad alike. John, the man with the sad funeral, may have lived a rough life, but the narrow gate is no more narrow for him than it is for you or for me. We all have baggage, we all have attachments, we all have things we need to shed that prevent us from loving God and from experiencing the gift of His love. Today we pray for the grace to unencumber ourselves and to run to the God Who calls us to Himself.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Utopia vs. True Peace: A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Twentieth Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou

August 14, 2016

A few weeks ago I sat down to watch the 2014 rendition of Lois Lowry’s 1993 book entitled The Giver. I liked the movie, probably because I had read the book in my 6th grade English class and remember being fascinated by it. It falls into the genre of dystopian fiction…a futuristic world that tries to sell itself as utopian but is decidedly oppressive, repressive, totalitarian and ultimately, miserable. The overall plot of Lowry’s book and subsequent film centers around a medicinal injection that prevents people from having emotions, thus allowing government officials to create an egalitarian society that is objective and supposedly free of the chaos that emotions can bring. Furthermore, the collective memory of society as a whole has been stripped from the individual and rests in the mind of a single person known as the Giver. As the story unfolds, the Giver’s appointed successor begins to see through the sterilized and supposedly peaceful world he had been living in as he begins to encounter the full range of human experience through the Giver’s memories: color, music, love, and happiness, but also pain, misery, war, and death. He begins to recognize that the so-called “peace” of his society was merely a mirage, and that the cost of this mirage was the complete surrender of all that it means to be human. Despite how jarring it was for him to encounter pain and suffering, the prospect of a full human life was too beautiful for him to ignore, and by helping others to see the same he caused the downfall of their plastic society.  Like The Giver, many other books and movies have attempted to illustrate humanity’s struggle between war and peace, between fantasy and reality, and seeks to warn their audiences that attempts to thwart human nature and freedom for the sake of any other perceived good will always end in failure.

In our world today, the real world, as we look at everything going on around us, it’s easy to feel the burden of human existence and of human freedom. Terrorist attacks and mass shootings, the polarization and marginalization of peoples, the disintegration of family life, debilitating illness and disease, starving children, corrupt governments, and the list goes on and on. And as we get more and more angry and more and more fed up with the deprivation, and injustice, and cruelty that exists in our world, we can begin to create an irrational fantasy world in our minds. John Lennon became the poster boy for this with his 1971 hit Imagine. In order to “imagine all the people living life in peace,” Lennon had to rid his fantasy world of heaven, of hell, of countries, of religion, of possessions, and of freedom. In other words, Lennon’s peace came at a great price: truth and reality. As much as our desire for peace and our longing for it is good, we have to make sure that we don’t slip into the very grave mistake of confusing it with a utopia, and that we never suppress what is beautiful, true, or good to attain it.

In our Gospel today, Jesus makes the astonishing statement that He has not come to establish peace on earth. At first this sounds outrageous to us. Isn’t He the Prince of Peace? Does He not beckon us to be peace-makers? Did He not tell His Apostles on the night of His Resurrection that He gives and leaves us His peace? All of this is certainly true, but His words today call us to consider more deeply what peace is, what it means, and how it is attained. If we think that peace is the absence of strife, of pain, of war, of misery, of division, of conflict, etc., then we have no use for the peace that Christ brings to us. He did not come into our world to make it a better place, to rid us collectively of all that burdens our lives, to wipe out our famine and poverty and disease, or to set up a utopia for us to enjoy…He came into our world to become one with us in the midst of all this muck. He took on the frailty of our human flesh, the fickleness of our emotions, the agony of our loneliness, the very burden of our sinfulness, and bringing it all to the Cross, He took on death itself. And by rising from the dead, He gave us something concrete to hope for: not some weird forced peace in this world brought about by a charismatic social worker or community organizer, but the peace of the Kingdom of God attained by the Savior of the world. He has not come to establish peace on this earth, He has come to call us to the peace of heaven. And contrary to those who work for utopias in this life by abandoning reality – what is true, good, and beautiful – the peace of God’s kingdom, which comes to us as a gift from the suffering and crucified Christ, can only be attained by fully embracing what is true, and good, and beautiful. By taking on our flesh, Christ shows us that humanity is not something to be overcome, but something to be glorified. And He shows us with own human nature that mankind, when it is most true to itself and to its Creator, can be the most beautiful thing in the world.

So when Christ calls to you and to me and He beckons us to be peace-makers, He is not calling us to establish utopian peace on the earth, but to be living breathing signposts of the peace of His Kingdom: to evidence with our lives and our lips how to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves; how to love truth, and beauty, and goodness; how to be uncompromising in our faith and morals; how to embrace suffering as redemptive; how to sacrifice ourselves daily so as to be more and more conformed to our Savior; and how to look forward with longing hearts to the blessedness of the world to come. And when we do this, we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that somehow everyone is just going to eat it up and love it…it will cause division, it will set people against each other, and we will be rejected. Peace is more than everyone getting along and having a good time…peace, true peace, is the salvation of mankind in Jesus Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that peace is the necessary and sure fruit of love. When we know that we are loved by God, when we love Him in return, and when we love those whom He loves, we are given an earthly foretaste of the peace of heaven. Let us ask our good God for the grace to strive for this every moment of every day, that we may be true signposts in this life of His true and everlasting peace.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

“You have shown me the way to Ars…I will show you the way to Heaven.”

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Nineteenth Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
August 7, 2016

I’d like to tell you a story about a little boy named Antoine Givre. It was a cold February evening in the year 1818 – a Tuesday evening to be exact…February 9. Antoine, who was a shepherd boy, was tending to his sheep just as he did every evening in the rural countryside of central France, about 17 miles outside of the city of Lyon. As he was preparing to call it a day, he saw a man coming towards him down the road…and as he got closer, Antoine could see that it was a priest. With nothing more than a cassock on his back, a hat on his head, and a little old cart he used to pull some essential possessions, the unassuming priest came up to the boy and asked if he would be good enough to show him the way to the village of Ars. Even though he knew that it would make him late for his supper, Antoine was happy to help the stranger, and he took him farther down the road until the tiny village could be seen. “How small it is!” the priest said softly, as he knelt on the cold ground and began to pray. Antoine was taken aback by how long the priest stayed kneeling and how he kept his gaze entirely fixed on the village the whole time, almost as if he were able to see into individual homes of each of the 200 inhabitants. After some time, the priest got up, took up his cart, and made his way down into the village, with Antoine at his side. When they reached the door of the little church, the priest turned to Antoine, put his hand on his shoulder, and said, “You have shown me the way to Ars…I will show you the way to Heaven.” With a smile on his face, little Antoine made his way back to his sheep, pondering the words of the priest. He shared what had happened, and what the priest told him, with all who would listen…not realizing that the quiet stranger he encountered that day on the road to Ars would one day become one of the greatest saints in history: the CurĂ© of Ars…St. John Vianney.

I tell you this story because the encounter between this shepherd boy and this saintly priest forms what I think is the heart of what the Christian life should be and what it should look like: a journey of two souls down a beaten path…a journey of selflessness, a journey of prayer, a journey of companionship, a journey of graciousness, a journey towards heaven. That day a poor boy and a poor man, a simple shepherd and a simple priest, exchanged gifts that far surpass anything that money could buy or that learning could impart. Antoine offered to John Vianney the gift of his time and the gift of his young experience…and in turn, John Vianney offered to Antoine the gift of his priestly heart and the gift of Christian hope. And everything that transpired between those two souls almost 200 years ago pinnacled and found ultimate meaning in the greatest of all gifts: the gift of eternal life, of blessedness, of heaven, offered to us by our good God.

In our Gospel today, our Lord invites us to reflect on the great gift that heaven is…and He invites and challenges us to dedicate every moment of every day to preparing for that gift. “Gird your loins,” He tells us, “and light your lamps, and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” We don’t know when the Lord will come for us…all we know is that He will, and we want to be ready to receive the gift that He has to offer. And the only way to be ready for this gift is to band together, to lock hearts with each other, and to trail down the road of this life carrying little, praying much, and helping one another to keep our eyes on the city that awaits us.

This week Father Greg, Father Rick, and myself come to you just as St. John Vianney came to Antoine and to Ars. And while I can only speak for myself, I think they would both agree with me that we don’t have a whole lot to offer you in terms of the things of this world…we each come carrying just a rickety old cart with a very finite collection of gifts and possessions. We may not be the best preachers or confessors. We may not be the most learned or the most wise. We may not be able to fill the pews or the bank accounts. We may not always be able to inspire you or fill you up. But what we do have, we give completely and entirely to you…our humanity, our priesthood, our very selves. For as long as we are here, we promise to journey with you…to walk down the tough and rocky road of life with you as companions, as brothers, as fathers. We will baptize your babies and bury your loved ones. We will hear your confessions and anoint your sick and dying. We will feed you weekly, and even daily if you want, with the Bread of Heaven. We will listen to your stories, to your happiness and your pain, and we will be there with you and for you. Show us who you are and where you come from, as Antoine showed John Vianney who he was and where he came from, and don’t ever think for a moment that you’re too small, or too poor, or too different, or too unimportant to be worth our time. Each of you has the ability and the worth and the grace to show us where to go and how to get there…and if you journey with us, the Lord Who works through our priesthood like a mighty hand in an old tattered glove, will show you the way to heaven.

So gird your loins, my brothers and sisters, and light your lamps, for the day of the Lord is near and the promise of our salvation is at hand. Let us recommit ourselves this day, and every day, to living as if it could be our last, and dare to enter into holy friendship with our Lord and with each other. Only by and through this friendship can we truly prepare and hope for the blessedness of heaven…and so as friends, as companions, let us show each other the way.

“You have shown me the way to Ars…
I will show you the way to Heaven.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

Reminiscing...and a New Beginning

For the past two years I have been telling a tale...a tale of a young priest who found himself assigned to the far reaches of Maine's northern countryside. He was a brand new priest when he arrived in his new parish and he took on his new curacy with a lot of excitement, but also with a little bit of fear and uncertainty. The Bishop had sent him to the greater Caribou/Presque Isle region, to the Parish of the Precious Blood, where he would be three-hundred miles from where he grew up, among people he'd never met, serving ten churches, and trying to carry it all off with at least a modicum of grace and decorum. I began telling the tale of this young priest in an effort to show that God's grace, though it challenges and stretches us, can surprise us beyond our wildest expectations. And this young priest, the Country Curate as he referred to himself, was indeed utterly surprised by how quickly he came to love his new assignment and his new life in Aroostook County. He fell in love with the beautiful countryside...the vast farmland, the dense forests, and all the rivers and streams and lakes. He fell in love with the community...his parishioners, the families he grew close to, and all of the many people he would meet around town. And he fell deeper in love with his God Who confirmed him in his priestly life and built him up in his ministry.

The tale, the saga, the story of the Country Curate is one that I never dreamed would come to an end so soon, but alas, it has. Upon the request of the Bishop, he has had to give up the rural and agrarian life he came to cherish for a more urban and coastal life. There will no doubt be many blessings and friendships and graces in his new work in the Portland area, but deep down he will always know that it was Aroostook County and all that it had to offer that first claimed him and swept him off his feet. And while for he now he might have to wash the garden soil off of his hands and say farewell to all of his favorite chickens and goats, this priest will forever be the country curate in his heart and soul.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I think these will show more truly what this tale has really been like...

When I look at these pictures, I can be nothing but grateful. Thank you Mars Hill, Presque Isle, Portage, Ashland, Washburn, Caribou, North Caribou, Stockholm, Limestone, and Fort Fairfield. With your prayers and love, and with God's grace, you have made me into the man and the priest I am, 

The tale of the Country Curate may be coming to end, but there is another tale to be told. It's the tale of a still-young priest, but with a little bit more experience under his belt. It's the tale of a parochial vicar with new people to meet and serve and love. It's the tale of a priest who left the woods for the ocean. It's the tale of the Coastal Curate.

Stay tuned if you want to hear his story.