Saturday, September 17, 2016

Our Eternal Life Insurance Policy - A Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

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

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
September 18, 2016

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to sit down with an insurance agent over a cup of coffee to start talking about things like life insurance, retirement annuities, and IRAs. As I’m barreling towards thirty, I can see the necessity of really beginning to think about my fiscal future. And I have to say, as tedious as the fine print can be and as difficult as it can get to wrap our minds around, there is something very satisfying about knowing that we are taking concrete steps to invest in our future. It is drilled into our American psyche that we should have a definite and reliable fiscal plan for our lives so that we don’t end up suffering or wanting for anything later on. And if we lack in this regard, our lives can quickly become filled anxiety and fear. It’s good to be prepared, it’s good to have a plan, it’s good to know that, no matter what, things will be taken care of. But sometimes we can take this too far and fail to see that there is a danger lurking beneath all of this. We can become so preoccupied thinking about, worrying about, and preparing for worldly things that we forget, neglect, and ignore the greater and eternal realities that far surpass the things of this world.

In our Gospel today, Jesus is warning us about this. He’s warning us about the spirit of the world, about worldliness, and how it can so easily distract us from our true destiny: heaven. As the old Baltimore Catechism puts it so simply and beautifully, our true and ultimate purpose is to love, know, and serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him in the next. Everything else that we say or do or want should be first subjected to this final and eternal end of ours. In other words, we should try to be spending each day looking at everything through the lens of eternity. But often times we don’t. Our decisions in this life are so often made from our desire for pleasure or our fear of suffering, and we spend much less time thinking about, meditating on, and preparing for life in the world to come. It’s easier to serve mammon than it is to serve God because the fruits of our service to mammon are immediately felt whereas the greater fruits of our service to God have to be longed and hoped for. But we don’t get to have our cake and eat it too. We have a choice to make and we have to make a choice: we can serve mammon or we can serve God, but we cannot serve both.

When I sat down with the insurance agent, he instilled within me a sense of urgency. If I were to die tomorrow, how would my funeral expenses be paid for? Who would pay off my vehicle? Do I have enough invested to cover all of these things? The answer was no, and so the solution was to invest more, to pick a life insurance policy particular to my state in life and to begin preparing for the day when I would need to use it. As I was driving away from our meeting, it occurred to me that my job as a priest is not dissimilar to that of an insurance agent. I don’t have any policies to sell, but I am called to help people see the urgency of preparing for and investing in their eternal future. We live in the world, we live and work with and use mammon, but we don’t have to be of the world and we don’t have to be slaves of mammon. God calls us to so much more and He promises that if we invest now in our eternal future with Him, our payout will be of infinite value.

So today I’d like to invite you to begin investing in your eternal insurance policy, or, if you have already started, to invest even more. Here are the terms:
  • First, we need evidence of insurability. If you’re not of basic and sufficient spiritual health, you must immediately begin to make healthy spiritual life choices to be insured. Weekly attendance at Mass and regular – at least yearly – use of the Sacrament of Confession are essential. Our priests are waiting and willing to help diagnosis spiritual life-threatening illnesses and to offer sacramental prescriptions as necessary. Contact them immediately for help or consultation.
  • Second, there are no monthly or annual premiums. However, there is the daily premium of picking up your own cross and laying down your own life for love of God and neighbor. Payments may never be deferred, but delinquency is forgivable 100% of the time if forgiveness is sought.
  • Third, you can increase the value of your policy at any time, day or night, by communing with God in prayer, through the practice of fasting, and by engaging in almsgiving.
  • Fourth, you are automatically enrolled in our comprehensive family plan. The angels and saints are ready to invest in your policy at any time. Please solicit them for their prayers. At times their investments will even result in the payments of small dividends in this life, for which God should be glorified and they should be thanked. Furthermore, you are entitled to invest in the policies of anyone on earth or in purgatory. Please direct your prayers and sacrifices accordingly.
  • Fifth, settlements will be paid only after death and will never be paid in this life. Jesus Christ, Who is your insurer, your ultimate investor, and the true owner of your policy, alone reserves the right to review and decide upon your claim. Minor policy failures on your part will result in a time of purification, after which full payment will be tendered. Major policy failures on your part will result in the free-forfeiture of your settlement. Forfeited settlements may not be reinstated after death. Please consult with Jesus in this life to reinstate a forfeited settlement by contacting one of His priests for confession.

So allow me to say it in simple terms. Put God above all things. Love Him and serve Him every day to the best of your ability, and love your neighbor as yourself. When you fall, seek His forgiveness in the sacraments. Give yourself over daily to prayer and come to be nourished by the Lord’s Body and Blood every week at Mass. Live a life of self-sacrifice, give special care to the poor, and ask for help from the angels and saints to do all of this.  Is this difficult? You bet it is. There’s a lot of mammon around to distract us, but fight the good fight. We’ll always have mammon to deal with, but the more we daily invest in heaven, the less mammon will have to offer us, and then the Kingdom of God will be at hand.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Lost and Found, Divided and United: A Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

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

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
September 11, 2016

Maybe your house was foreclosed on or your beloved pet went missing. Maybe your best friend moved away or your husband walked out on you. Maybe your son was diagnosed with cancer or your mother with dementia. Maybe your grandfather passed away unexpectedly or your aunt perished in the terrorist attacks fifteen years ago. Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, if you’ve got breath in your lungs and blood in your veins, you know what it means to lose, to experience loss. Sometimes it’s a little petty, and sometimes it’s horrendously profound, but none of us are exempt from the experience. It’s one of those things that every man, woman, and child has in common…something that people of every race and tongue and nation share. It can make us stronger and it can beat us down; it can open the door for new opportunities or cast us into the throws of depression. Loss is blind and it chooses its victims arbitrarily most of the time, forgetting any sense of justice or fairness. Is there any human experience more gut-wrenching or agonizing than the experience of loss?

Putting it in sterile, but straightforward words, the dictionary describes “loss” as the state or process or feeling of grief when being deprived of someone or something of value. At first glance this seems to be a sufficient description of the experience. When we value a person or a thing and then this person or thing is removed from our lives we quite naturally mourn and miss what we once had. But I think there’s more to the experience of loss than simply the devastation of being deprived of someone or something of value. I think it has a lot more to do with our basic desire and need for unity and completeness.

Our modern English word “loss” itself comes from the Proto-Germanic word “lausa” and the Old Norse word “los” – words that were used to describe the breaking up of an army, or the division and separation of a clan. These words developed fairly organically from verbs in Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit which literally mean “to untie.” Thus the origins of the word “loss” describe an experience where something that was once united and one had become separated and divided: what was tied had become untied and what was once whole had been cut. This separation and division caused the felt experience of grief not simply because an individual assigned value to something or someone, but because there was objective value in unity and wholeness. It was better to be one than many, to be united than divided, and thus a “loss” wasn’t simply a personal tragedy, it was an objective and a communal tragedy.

A lost sheep. A lost coin. A lost son. Our Lord in our Gospel today places these three “losses” before us and, calling upon our own wide-ranging and personal experience of loss, He invites us into a deeper consideration of this mystery. He wants us to go beyond the personal angst we feel when we lose something we value and to consider loss as it really is: a deprivation of unity. The man who lost his sheep is distressed not simply because he lost 1/100th of his property value, but because the wholeness and integrity of his herd had been undone. The value of the sheep gone astray wasn’t just a matter of calculation, nor was it simply based on the affinity that the man had for this particular sheep, but because this sheep was a vital part of making the sheepfold one. The same thing is true of the woman who lost her coin and even more so of the father who lost his son. When the son left his father and brother and went off to live a debaucherous life, he untied a unity of persons. Common flesh, father and sons, shared a common home, a common hearth, and a common life. They were one and united, but when the younger son abandoned the family, he left them divided and separate. In a very real way, the son completed his father and brother and the father and brother completed the son, and when they were torn apart, when their unity was compromised, devastation and sadness and grief followed. And when the sheep was found, when the coin was rediscovered, when the son returned home, there was rejoicing and gladness among family, friends, and neighbors not because possessions were reestablished and value returned, but because unity was restored. God’s world, our world, was made for unity, and thus it mourns for all that is lost and rejoices for all that is found. Deep down, beyond all the sin and division that drives us apart, struggle as we might, we know that we were meant for unity.

The experience of loss is felt personally, but it’s not simply a personal experience. It is something, as our Lord Himself tells us, that both heaven and earth lament over. When death, sickness, disease, and sin creep into our lives and deprive us of the unity that God intended for us, all of creation mourns. But this is why Christ has come into the world: to destroy death, to cure sickness, to heal disease, and to eradicate sin, and in doing so reunite us who have gone astray with each other and with the Father. He accomplished this on His Cross and the effects of His work will continue to make themselves known until all is brought to perfection and glory at the end of time. In the meantime, He graces us to be His instruments, giving us the power to destroy division and restore unity in our own little corner of the world. But this requires us to go beyond ourselves and our own immediate concerns. It requires us to care about the good for each person in this life and to be invested in their eternal salvation. It means that we give bread to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. It means we clothe the naked and welcome the stranger. It means we care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. It means that we teach the unlearned and counsel the doubtful. It means we call ourselves and all sinners to conversion and bear wrongs patiently. It means we forgive those who offend us, that we console those who are sad, and that we pray for all, both the living and dead. And why? Because we are all called to be one before the Father, and we must work, with His grace, to tie what has been untied, to make whole what has been cut, to find what was lost. This is when heaven and earth rejoice, because God’s family – one person at a time – is restored to wholeness.

Every bit of loss that we experience in this life, tragic as it is, is a reminder of the unity that we were created for. Let us take our Lord’s words today to heart and allow them transform our lives. Let us value each other not just as objects that increase or decrease our pleasure in this life, but as family, as sons and daughters of the Father who were made to be one. Let us dare to see that the Lord has created us to complete each other, and that together in Him, and in Him alone, do we find our complete joy.

The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773) by Pompeo Batoni

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Values, the World, and the Cost of Discipleship: A Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

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

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
September 4, 2016

I won’t degrade the Sacred Liturgy by singing something so silly, but do you remember the little jingle from the Klondike Bar commercials? You know the one: “What you would do-oo-oo, for a Klondike Bar?” Accompanying the jingle was usually a scene with someone willing to do something ridiculous or even dangerous for the tasty dessert. As a kid – before I understood or appreciated hyperbole – I remember being annoyed by it all…I liked Klondike Bars as much as the next guy, but they weren’t so amazing that I’d risk my life, or even looking stupid, for 30 seconds of chocolate covered ice cream. Of course once I realized that it was simply a marketing ploy and not meant to be taken literally I lightened up a bit, but I do think it speaks to something that we, in our humanity, struggle with. Every day of our lives we are assessing risks, weighing pros and cons, and trying to see how close we can get to having our cake and eating it too. The Klondike company was capitalizing on this, inviting itself into our subconscious and continuing to convince us that the best things in life, what we value the most, are worth great risks. The kicker, though, is that our human freedom allows for us all to have very divergent value systems…we are free to undervalue the most important things in life, like faith and family, and to overvalue the least important things, like ice cream and pleasure. We all struggle with this day in and day out. We skip Grandma’s 90th birthday party for a chance to go to a Red Sox game. We consistently choose cake and fried foods at the expense of our health. And we forget about our relationship with God because other things come up. It all comes down to our values and what we’re willing, or not willing, to do to uphold them.

Our Gospel today is tough and there’s no way around it. Jesus is being deliberately harsh when He turns to the crowds and invites them to consider that their value-systems need to be majorly adjusted. Saint Luke is careful to mention that Jesus is addressing not just His disciples, but everyone who has gathered around him…the great crowds who were traveling with Him. Now let’s consider the situation. Up to this point in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has cured a demoniac in Capernaum, cured Simon’s mother-in-law, healed countless sick and exorcized countless possessed, restored a leper to health, healed a paralytic, cured the Gerasene demoniac, cured the woman with a hemorrhage, raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, transfigured Himself in front of Peter and James and John, healed a boy possessed by a demon, cured a cripple woman on the Sabbath, and healed a man with dropsy on the Sabbath. Needless to say, Jesus is getting a lot of attention for being a wonder-worker and the crowds are flocking to Him not because they are very interested in what He has to say, but because they have become infatuated with His ability to accomplish great and powerful things. They’re “following” Him, but they’re not following Him. And so by chapter 14, a little more than half-way through Saint Luke’s, Jesus is ready to start calling them out. He spells out the cost of discipleship and tells them point-blank that if they value comfort, possessions, or even family more than God, they simply are not worthy of being His disciple. Most of the people in the crowds had very little interest in the person of Jesus Christ – they were His fans, sure, but only because they got something from Him. When the going got tough and He bled to death on the Cross, they were nowhere to be found.

People in our day and age approach Jesus in much the same way. There are still great crowds that follow Him – about 2.2 billion people on earth, nearly a third of the entire population – but in a very superficial way. For many people who identify as Christian, Jesus is really an afterthought. He’s become something of a principle, rather than a Divine Person…and we invoke Him to accomplish our own agendas or to fulfill our own personal needs. We’ll take Him when it comes to social justice endeavors, tolerance issues, etc. We’ll take Him when things get rough, like when natural disasters strike, our loved ones are sick, or tragedies ensue. We’ll take Him at Christmas and at Easter when the sentiments of the seasons call for it. But other than that, where is He? Where are His definitive moral teachings on marriage and family? Where is His insistence on sacrifice and selflessness? Where are His many words on temptation, sin, hell, and salvation? See, so many of us want Jesus the do-gooder, the Jesus Who affirms us and makes us feel great, and not Jesus the Savior. And today He tells us that if we’re only sticking around to use Him for the good things He does, or only when it’s convenient, then we’re not really His disciples and we’re just kidding ourselves.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came into this world for one reason: to save us. He didn’t come to make the world a better place and He didn’t come so that we could feel better about ourselves. He came to hang on the Cross, to accomplish by that supreme act of love the total and final reconciliation between God and mankind. And He came to tell us that our salvation is dependent upon our willingness to love by the same measure. He took up His Cross and died for us and, He tells us, if we wish to be saved, we must pick up our crosses and die to ourselves. Everything He said and did in this world was ordered towards His Cross…every healing, every miracle, every good deed…it was all meant to lead us to understand why He hung there and what it has accomplished.

Today we are invited to consider how much and to what extent we value our relationship with Jesus Christ. We must ask ourselves and then answer honestly: have we compartmentalized Him, bringing Him out for special occasions, or is He our everything? Are we willing to give up all things, to risk all things, to follow Him? And our answer cannot be ethereal; it must be concretized in action. If we’re not going to Mass every week, if we’re not praying every day, if we’re not engaged in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, if we’re not going to confession regularly, if we’re not studying our faith, if we’re not forsaking the comforts and pleasures of this life – or at least completely subjecting them to Him – then we are not His disciples.

We each have a choice. What are you going to do with yours? What has to change? What possessions – emotional, spiritual, or physical – have to be let go of? What priorities have to be shifted around? What crosses have to be picked up? Unlike a Klondike Bar, there can be no risk assessment here…it’s all or nothing. Today we pray for the grace to choose the way of salvation and to live solely for God in Christ Jesus.