Saturday, November 26, 2016

God's Obsessive Love - A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
First Sunday of Advent
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
November 27, 2016

It was a Friday afternoon in December of 1994. I was only seven years old, but I remember the experience like it was yesterday. Breaking my parent’s rules, I was flipping through the channels on the television without adult supervision and came across a commercial for a new horror movie. It scared the living daylights out of me. I quickly changed the channel to cartoons, but the damage had already been done…the sounds and images were burned into my mind. As you can imagine, bedtime that night was a disaster…and despite my pleading and crying, my parents insisted that I go to bed at my regular time. They tucked me in, told me there were no such things as monsters, and said that the sooner I close my eyes and go to sleep the sooner morning would come and everything would feel better. Their words, however, offered me no real comfort. I was so scared that I didn’t sleep the entire night…I was consumed by and obsessing over my fear, convinced that at any moment the worst was going to happen. I lay there, tucked under my covers agonizing for hours, but then, slowly, the first hints of twilight started to come in through my window. I jumped out from under my covers, opened my blinds, and watched the sun slowly rise over the horizon. It was the first real sunrise I had ever seen and it was breath-taking. The sun was like a superhero, coming in and powerfully defeating the villain that was darkness. With every second my fear was dissipating and I felt stronger and braver. Soon the dawn, the morning sun, was pouring into my bedroom and I felt silly that I had ever been scared in the first place.

The night is advanced, St. Paul tells us in our second reading today, and the day is at hand. The darkness, the shadows, the fear…it’s all fading away because Christ, the true and everlasting Son of God, is close at hand. It is time for us, then, to throw off the covers – to throw off the works of darkness­ – and, to cast aside our fear, and rush to our windows to see the rising sun. It is time to put on the armor of light and to, strongly and bravely, prepare for the Lord Who comes.

My friends, today we find ourselves beginning the holy season of Advent once again. The word “Advent” itself means the arrival, the coming towards, the approach – and this blessed season serves to focus our minds and hearts on the great mystery of God’s real, tangible, and immanent in-breaking into our world. He came to us 2,000 years ago, veiled in the flesh as a tiny child lying in a manger. He comes to us now, in our own day, through the power of grace and in the most Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. And He will come to us again, in glory, at the end of time. The season of Advent isn’t just about preparing for Christmas, it’s about getting over our fear of darkness and sin and coming to realize how utterly obsessed God is with us that He advents, that He comes to us as He does. This is why Saint Augustine calls Him the “Hound of Heaven,” – the God of the universe, of all creation, can’t leave us alone. Like the sun itching to make its presence known in a dark world, God wants nothing more than to make His presence known in our midst. He comes to us, so truly and so really, dispelling the night with the light of His radiance, and reveals Himself to us. He shakes us out of slumber and begs us to see how much He loves us. When we become awake to this awesome mystery, free from the fear that once bound us, we can then begin the great work of loving Him in return. This is what Advent is all about…preparing ourselves to become as obsessed with God as He is with us.

Four weeks from now this beautiful Cathedral will be bedecked with Christmas glory…lights and evergreens and flowers will abound. The Christ Child will be placed in His manger and we’ll all sing the carols we know and love. But behind all of the trappings of Christmas, remember the mystery of God’s absolute, infinite, reckless, obsessive love for you. Take the next four weeks, plunge yourself into the silent twilight of Advent and await the dawn of Christmas morning by learning how to love Him as He loves you. Meditate on the Scriptures…come to Mass more frequently…go to Confession and receive Holy Communion. Let His light fill your mind, His grace fill your soul, and His love fill your heart. This is what it means to be prepared for His coming. This is why the Church gives us this beautiful season.

In our Collect – our opening prayer – today, we prayed that God would grant us, His faithful, the resolve to run forth to meet His Christ with righteous deeds at His coming. May this prayer govern our lives for the next four weeks. The Son of God is coming to us…let us leave everything else behind, every bit of sin, of despair, and of fear, and, with reckless abandonment, run towards Him.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Sky is Falling! What Do We Do? - A Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

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

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
November 13, 2016

I’m sure we’ve all heard the story of Chicken Little. There are a few different versions floating around, but the basic storyline centers around a little chicken who, after an acorn falls on his head, becomes absolutely convinced that the sky is falling and that the end-of-the-world is near. Stricken by fear, Chicken Little decides that the king must know about this, so he sets off on a journey to warn him. Along the way he scares the feathers off of several other barnyard fowl by telling them the news, and soon there’s a whole contingent of anxious and petrified birds making their way to see the king. All of this, of course, draws the attention of a certain cunning fox who knows darn well the sky isn’t falling and who decides to take advantage of the flustered featherheads. Playing into their fear and sense of urgency, the fox tells them that he knows the perfect shortcut to the king’s palace. The gullible birds follow him right to his den, only to end up on the dinner menu. The moral of the story: not everything is as it seems, so stay calm, discern wisely, and don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions.

Over the last several months we’ve been hit on the head by many acorns. Devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters; a contentious and deeply divisive election season; multiple mass shootings; violent protests…and the list could go on. Things just seem to be getting progressively worse around the world. And with all of these acorns falling, there is the lingering temptation to over assess the situation and to begin believing that the sky is falling. I’ve had more than a few people express their fear to me that it seems like we might be nearing “the end.” Now on the one hand we shouldn’t simply dismiss this possibility; after all, our Lord has assured us that there will be a definitive end to this world as we know it when He comes again in glory. But on the other hand, we want to remain sober and restrained in our discernment of signs and events in our world lest we lead others and ourselves down a fox hole.

In our Gospel today, Jesus speaks about the future destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, a sign that the old order is passing away and that the new covenant of His Blood is being established for all eternity. “All that you see here,” He says, “the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Though He is speaking about the Temple, He is also speaking about the end of time and reminds us that things are going to get difficult prior to His return: “Wars and insurrections…nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” Now when we look around at our world, we see these things happening more and more. Does it mean we’re nearing the end? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe they’re just acorns or maybe the sky is actually falling. But quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter. Whether the world ends tomorrow or in a thousand years from now, the life and duty of the Christian remains the same: we love God, we love our neighbor, we confess and repent of our sins, we feed on His Body and Blood, and we live out each day striving for greater faith, greater hope, and greater love. This is what Jesus is getting at in our Gospel today. Whether things are going really well or whether they get really bad, whether it’s the end or not, we must persevere in our steadfast living out of His gospel.

So yes, things are crazy in our world right now. We can be like Chicken Little if we want and cause all kinds of imprudent, unhelpful panic as we over-analyze the current situation. Or we can honestly acknowledge the state of things and simply put our hands back to the plow and keep on keeping on. All of this is going away one day, but it doesn’t matter when. All that matters is that, when the Lord comes, He finds us faithful. So live out the Commandments, come to Mass, go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, say your prayers in the morning and at night, teach your children the faith, take care of the poor, and don’t worry so much about all the acorns. That’s why Jesus tells us that it is “by your perseverance you will secure your lives.” No panicking, no jumping to conclusions, just perseverance. We pray for this grace today as we come to the Lord’s altar.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

“He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” - A Homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday of the Year

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
November 6, 2016

The sun rose this morning at 6:23 and it will set this afternoon at 4:24. Ten hours of sunlight is all we get today. A month ago we had eleven and a half hours and in a month from now we will have fewer than nine. It’s getting darker and colder by the day. The beautiful summer flowers are long gone and now even the vibrant autumn colors have turned dull and bleak. The trees are almost all bare, the birds are fleeing southward, and nature is preparing itself for winter’s sleep. Before we know it, and inevitably before we’re ready for it, the snow will fall and the long months of winter will begin. Now winter might be inconvenient, but it’s bearable because we know that it will only last for a time…we know that come March things will start turning around and spring will be on its way. But imagine if we didn’t know this. Imagine if we were an alien from outer space experiencing all of this for the first time. We might be convinced that it’s all over, that the world was literally fading away before our eyes. And no doubt we’d soon fall into the depths of despair. Imagine not knowing that winter is followed by spring, that bare trees are followed by lush vegetation, that the birds come back, that the days get longer and warmer again. Life would become intolerable, we would become miserable, and we’d just curl up waiting for it all to end. Thank God we do know better. The gift of hindsight and experience assures us of the beauty and the warmth and the light that awaits us on the other side of winter.

This life we live can, at times, be a lot like winter. Sometimes we find ourselves lost in the cold stillness and other times we’re fighting through unforgiving blizzards. There’s a lot of icy darkness that plagues our hearts…like doubt, anxiety, and fear. And there’s a lot of harshness that plagues them too…like anger, lust, and greed. War, violence, famine, disease, homelessness, natural disasters…it’s all winter. And on top of all that, each and every one of us is on a trajectory of decline. Without exception we will all age, become weaker, and eventually die. It can be so overwhelming at times…overwhelming, and frightening, and even hopeless, because unlike the tree that loses and regains everything it has every year, we have no definitive assurance that the winter of this life will ever be followed by a spring. After all, there is not one among us who has made it through the pain and the tragedy and the death of this life who can assure us that something greater awaits us, right? Right? I think you can see where I’m going with this.

We are in this church this morning for one reason and one reason alone. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One Who died a true death on a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, is no longer dead but is risen. He was seen and heard in His risen state by countless witnesses whose testimony has gone out to the limits of the earth, through all time and to all places…even to Portland, Maine this very day. Jesus Christ endured death, He endured winter, and He conquered it, becoming our first and everlasting sign of the spring that awaits us. He is the very embodiment of our hope, the One in Whom we place our faith, and the true object of our love. He is the ray of light that pierces through the darkness, that warms the cold, and sets the world ablaze. The glory of His Resurrection is the surest sign and promise for us of the eternal beauty waiting for us on the other side of the winter of this life. This is why we cried out in our Psalm this morning, “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus encounters a group of people – the Sadducees – who are sadly convinced that there is only winter and that there is no spring to look forward to. They were a small Jewish sect in Jesus’ day who denied the immortality of the soul, the existence of heaven, and the resurrection of the dead. They considered it their duty to obey the written law faithfully only so that they could attain the highest measure of happiness possible in this life. For them there was no hope, no spring, and ultimately, no joy. But Jesus looks them in the eye in our gospel today and He proclaims to them the very truth He would soon prove in His Resurrection: “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”

My friends, we are Christian because we proclaim Jesus Christ risen from the dead. We confess this truth of truths with our tongues and we live it by our lives. And we know the blessed hope it gives us, too, who faithfully endure our own winter alongside Him. But there are many modern Sadducees in our world today who live without the hope and joy that comes from knowing Christ. They are fighting through the storms and the darkness and the cold and they have no sign, no hope, no assurance that the winter they are fighting through can indeed find its fulfillment in an everlasting spring. It belongs to us, those who have this hope, to be – as Christ calls us – light for the world. We are called to dispel darkness with faith, to warm uncertainty with hope, and to set hearts on fire with love. This is the work of evangelization…and it is necessary and urgent.

I’m giving you some homework this week. Spend some time meditating on how the good news of Jesus Christ risen from the dead has affected you in your life. Think of the people in your life who helped you come to this knowledge and faith and then begin to emulate their witness. Parents, grandparents, teachers, siblings, priests, religious, neighbors, friends…where would you be today without them? Ask the Lord to strengthen your faith at His holy altar and then, like them, commit yourself to the work of handing on the faith. Be a light in the midst of darkness and proclaim boldly and warmly that winter is not the end, but rather only the beginning.