Saturday, October 29, 2016

Overcoming our Fragility and Becoming Vulnerable: A Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

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

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
October 30, 2016

Charles VI, who ruled France as King from 1380 to 1422, began suffering from bouts of insanity towards the end of his life. At first he just began acting strange, but his attacks grew more and more severe, eventually leading him to have terrible delusions. Among the delusions that the king suffered from was the idea that he was made of glass. He became absolutely convinced that with any false move or fall he would immediately shatter into a million pieces. This fear paralyzed him and he went to absurd lengths to ensure that he wouldn’t break. He wouldn’t let anyone touch him and he even had special reinforced clothing made. Charles become obsessed with his own perceived fragility, even though he was never really at risk, and it ruined the rest of his life. The walls he put up to protect himself deprived him of companionship and personal contact. And at the tender age of 53, Charles died a lonely death, a shell of his former self.

It’s easy to feel bad for poor Charles…he clearly wasn’t in his right mind and he suffered greatly for it. But let’s be honest with ourselves…what was a sickness of the mind for Charles can so often be in us a sickness of the heart. Isn’t it true that much of our lives are spent trying to protect ourselves from perceived fears? Maybe we’re afraid of getting hurt, or getting rejected, or loving without being loved in return…and because this fear can at times be so paralyzing we go to great lengths to protect our hearts from it. We build walls, we keep people at a distance, we put on fa├žades…anything we can do to ensure that we won’t get hurt. Like Charles, we can sometimes over-estimate our fragility and take extreme measures to prevent ourselves from breaking. The problem is, when we don’t live in the truth, when we don’t learn to overcome our fragility and dare to become truly vulnerable, we end up missing out on the best things in life.

Our gospel today invites us into this mystery and challenges us to move from fragility to vulnerability. In the story of Zacchaeus, we encounter a fragile man who effectively shut himself away. As the chief tax collector in Jericho, Zacchaeus would have been despised…he would have been seen by his fellow Jews as a complete traitor and a cooperator in the oppressive Roman system as he became rich off of his own people. And despite all the money he was making, despite the fact that he was at the top of the career, I’d be willing to bet that, deep down, Zacchaeus was absolutely miserable. Imagine what his world must have been like. I can see him walking down the street, maybe with his head held high in pride, but inside he’s a wreck. Every face he encounters is a scowl – never a smile. Every word he hears is bitter – never cheerful. He probably can’t remember the last time someone invited him over for dinner, or checked up on him when he was sick, or sat down with him for a heart-to-heart. For whatever reason, Zacchaeus – in his own perceived fragility – chose a life that effectively kept everyone at a distance. He cut himself off, built up his walls, and prevented himself from giving and receiving love. And no doubt he felt that there was no way out of it.

But then something happens…Jesus comes to Jericho. Unable to explain it, Zacchaeus’ poor, closed-off, over-protective heart begins to beat again. No doubt at the end of his rope, Zacchaeus can’t take it anymore…the fear, the loneliness, the pain is all too much. But there’s something about this strange visitor that seems to offer him the promise of relief. Suddenly, out of nowhere, forgetting his own fragility and making himself completely and utterly vulnerable, Zacchaeus hurls himself up into a tree just to catch a glimpse of this man. The people standing around him were probably shocked…who would have thought that Zacchaeus, of all people, would care enough about something to climb a dirty tree. But there he was, exposed and vulnerable, sitting up there for all to see in that old sycamore tree, desperately searching and looking for the love he was made for. And then their eyes met…Zacchaeus locked eyes with Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Creator and creature. God and man. They stared at each other for a moment and Zacchaeus’ heart was pierced by a love that cannot be put into words. A love so powerful that he, from that moment on, changed his life, turning it around forever.

Had he never climbed that tree, had he never put aside his fears and exposed himself in utter vulnerability, Zacchaeus’ life-changing encounter with the Lord might never have happened. He would have stayed on the ground, safe and sound and fragile, continuing to live his agonizing lonely life in the protective shadows…and he would not have known the riches of love that were waiting for him.

So what about us? What walls do we need to knock down that we built around those fragile parts of our hearts? What trees do we need to climb in order to expose ourselves to the mystery of love? For each one of us it’s a little different. Maybe it’s something in our past that we’re ashamed of. Maybe we went through some kind of tragic event that has left us cold and shut off. Maybe it’s a past love that didn’t work out, or an addiction we can’t seem to overcome, or a sin we keep falling into. Whatever it is, whatever we are holding on to that in turn is holding us back from God’s love and the abundant life He calls us to, we’ve got to let go of it. Both Charles and Zacchaeus spent their lives trying to protect themselves…and while Charles remained in his fear, Zacchaeus climbed the tree. By opening himself up, by exposing himself, forgetting his fragility and becoming vulnerable, Zacchaeus was finally able to love and be loved…and the same is true for us.

In the hustle and bustle of this world, in the midst of all its craziness and sadness, the Lord walks in search of our own searching hearts. Today, let us be resolved to be open to the gift of His love. Today let us forget all of our pretenses, all of our hang-ups, all of our insecurities, all of our fears, and dare, in utter vulnerability, to embrace and to be embraced by the extraordinary gift of love. Today let us get up in our trees, no matter how ridiculous we think we might look, and cry out with Zacchaeus that we too want to love and to be loved! And when we find it difficult, we can look to the cross…we can look to the One Who climbed the tree of the cross, exposed and vulnerable for all to see, not because He had to, but because He loved us. Imagine…imagine what could happen to us and to our world if we lived in and modeled that vulnerable love every day of our lives…




Saturday, October 22, 2016

“Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” - A Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Thirtieth Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
October 23, 2016

The famous Irish playwright, poet, and novelist, Oscar Wilde, was an iconic and interesting man, to say the least. He is remembered well for his great works, like his novel A Picture of Dorian Gray and his play The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as for his wit, his humor, and his intelligence. He was personable, more than a tad flamboyant, and quite charming in his own way. But he is also remembered for his short-comings. He would be the first to tell you that he wasn’t exactly the poster boy for Christian morality. Wilde lived a very decadent and, at times, outrageous lifestyle. He was well-known for his extra-marital affairs and numerous sexual liaisons with both women and men. In fact, in 1895 Wilde was charged with gross indecency and sent to prison in London for two years. When he got out of prison, his life turned to shambles and he declined into depression and alcoholism. But it was after all of this, after all his exciting, complicated, sinful, human experiences, that Oscar Wilde began to realize that there is more to this life than one’s accomplishments or sins…in fact, he began to realize that there is more than just this life. Deep in his soul he struggled terribly as he felt a need to connect with God…and by encountering the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Wilde began to see himself and his own life through new eyes. He made his intentions known that he would soon be converting to Catholicism. Before this would come to pass, though, he developed cerebral meningitis and found himself with only days to live. As he lay on his death bed, Fr. Cuthbert Dunne, a priest from Ireland, received him into the Church and administered the Last Rites, absolving Oscar Wilde of his sins and anointing him for his journey to God. On November 30, 1900, he departed this life for eternity…leaving his sins and failings behind him. Wilde knew, as we all do deep down, that God was going to lay a claim on him, which is perhaps why he put those now famous words into the mouth of Lord Illingworth in the play A Woman of No Importance: 
“The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”

In our Gospel today, Jesus sets before us the example of two men. On the surface they couldn’t be more different. The Pharisee was himself an example of virtuous living and external holiness…he lived a blameless life, abstained from vice, fasted twice a week, and gave much to the poor. He would have appeared to us, who couldn’t see his heart as Jesus could, as a walking saint. Then you have the tax collector…a prime example of sinful and unholy living. He took money from the poor, ripped off his own people, and grew fat and happy. He would have appeared to us, who couldn’t see his heart as Jesus could, as a miserable sinner. But at the end of the day, in their heart of hearts and in the sight of God, these men are not as different as they appear or as they might like to believe. They both lived and struggled and sinned. The tax collector’s sins are a little more obvious than the Pharisee’s, but despite all of his virtue the Pharisee is not without sin himself. What separates these two men is not how they have sinned, but rather the recognition that they have sinned and the subsequent turning towards God for forgiveness. The Pharisee – the parable’s saint – forgot that he had a past to repent of…while the tax collector – the parable’s sinner – remembered that he had a future to turn towards.

I’m going to make this short, sweet, and to the point today. My friends, it doesn’t matter how good or bad you’ve been in this life. It doesn’t matter if you’re a great saint or a terrible sinner. What matters is that you have an honest recognition of your past and a firm hope in God for your future. Each one of us needs God more than the earth needs the sun. He puts breath in our lungs and grace in our souls…without Him we would be nothing. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking, like the Pharisee, that we’re simply “all set” – even if we have progressed so far in the spiritual life that we have left most of the “big” sins behind, we must still admit where we have come from and who brought us from there. On the flip side, we also have to guard ourselves from thinking that our sinfulness is in any way beyond God’s mercy…like the tax collector, like Oscar Wilde, we have to ask that God forgive our past and give us a future in His Son.

As we come to the altar today, let us remember in truth who we are, where we came from, but also what the future holds in store. No saint in history ever dared approach the altar without first admitting his or her sins and shortcomings…and no repentant sinner in history ever left the altar without becoming a saint. I pray that we, the regular old Joe Shmoes of this life, will come to realize and rejoice in what Oscar Wilde himself discovered, that every saint indeed has a past and every sinner has a future.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

“Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it...” - A Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

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

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
October 16, 2016

Growing up, Saturday nights always looked the same. My grandfather would get the beans on the stove by 4 o’clock and my grandmother would get the red hot dogs and the brown molasses bread going. The baked beans came from a can…in fact, so did the brown bread…we didn’t have time for any of that fancy stuff. We had to eat and have the table cleared off by 5 o’clock so that we could pile into the living room for the Lawrence Welk Show. It was so much fun to watch my grandparents come alive during that hour…the bubbles, the champagne music, the dancing, it all brought them right back to their younger years. Then the 6 o’clock news, a bit of dessert, and, of course, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy back to back. Saturday nights were wholesome, simple, and because of my grandparents, always a step back in time…and I loved every minute of it. Those nights were formative for me and they no doubt helped to turn me into the old soul that I am. But it wasn’t the food and the laughter and the shows that made the most impact on my little heart…it was what came after. As my grandfather would stay in the living room watching some old Western or something, my grandmother would help me get ready for bed and then she’d sit me down and talk to me about the faith…the same faith she learned as a little girl. She told me stories about the saints and about her early days at St. Peter’s Elementary School with all the priests and sisters and brothers. She’d pull out her old family Bible and would explain the stories behind the beautiful pictures I saw. She kept a little box on her dresser with holy medals and holy cards and she’d let me paw through them all as she told me what they all meant. Then we’d say our prayers – in English and in French – and then I’d fall asleep. I can still remember those precious little moments as if they happened just yesterday. Those Saturday nights, I am convinced, are why I am a man of faith and a priest today.

Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation. This is what St. Paul tells us in our second reading today in his second letter to Timothy. Tradition and scholars tell us that this was St. Paul’s final letter before his death and we can see in it that he, as a loving father not long for this world, is trying to ensure that the same faith that was handed on to him would remain strong and alive and vibrant in his spiritual children, in the many generations to come. Deliberately, devoutly, and lovingly he passed on the faith given to him, and because of this the world was set on fire with the love of Jesus Christ. For two thousand years the faith has been passed on like this…person to person, heart to heart, priest to faithful, sister to student, father to son, mother to daughter, grandmother to grandson. Stories and memories and Scripture and prayers, a moment here and a moment there…this is the work of evangelization, this is how the faith is passed on, this is how the world is set ablaze. Of course we need an army of great teachers and preachers who will go to the ends of the earth, but nothing substitutes for the authentic faith a child can see living in the eyes and life of someone he or she loves. My grandmother probably never thought of herself as a missionary, as an evangelist, and yet she was…simply by remaining faithful to what she learned and believed, she helped me to do the same.

My friends, in our world today as things get darker and grimmer, we have to let St. Paul’s words cut us right to core. We can’t let all of the bad things happening around us or to us distract us from what matters most: the salvation offered to us in Jesus Christ. We cannot forget all that we have learned and believed when the world makes fun us for being fanatics, when e-mails are sent about us being backwards, or when people in power try to snuff us out. On the contrary, we must cling ever more tightly to the faith of our fathers and mothers, of our grandfathers and grandmothers, and continue passing it along to the next generation. We have to help our children come to love God by showing them how much we ourselves love Him. We have to teach them to find the answers to their questions in the Scriptures and through prayer. We have to make sure they know how imminent and close God is to them. And we have to remind them that, when all else in this world of ours fails, they only have to seek out the red glow of the sanctuary lamp and take refuge in a love beyond all knowing.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Jesus puts this question before His disciples in our Gospel today and He puts it before us too. If we cave into the allurements of the world, into the new “theologies” and new “spiritualties,” if we forget all that has been passed on to us, all that we have learned and believed from of old, then when the Son of Man comes we will only be able to hide our faces in shame. But if we withstand the temptations, if we are tirelessly true to what has been handed down to us, if we have sought to share it and to pass it on without being ashamed or scared, then we will be able to stand before Him face to face as He transforms the faith He has found in us into sight.

As we come to this altar today, continuing to receive the One Who hands Himself over to us as true and heavenly food, let us rededicate our entire selves to the robust living of our faith. Let us thank God for the holy men and women who passed the faith on to us and beg Him to give us the strength to do the same.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Denying Christ - A Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

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

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
October 9, 2016

One day I was sitting in Mrs. Blanchette’s fifth grade classroom bursting with anticipation. My grandmother was picking me up from school early that day for a dentist’s appointment. I wasn’t excited about the dentist by any means, but I was excited about the fact that I was going to be out of school before noon and that I wouldn’t be going back until the next day. No doubt, after the dentist, we’d go have lunch, get some ice cream, and probably go someplace for me to pick out a toy. All I had to do was wait. Luckily, though, our classroom was at ground level, and we were perfectly positioned to see the school parking lot from our window, so I would know exactly when my grandmother arrived and would be all ready to go when the secretary announced over the PA: “Kyle Doustou, please report to the office.” I was watching the clock like hawk, unable to focus really, when finally my grandmother’s car pulled into the parking lot. But all of a sudden, as she got out of the car and began walking to the school, my classmates who were sitting by the window started to snicker. They began making fun of the “old lady” who was hobbling down the sidewalk. They mocked her “old lady” car, her “old lady” clothes, and her “old lady” walk. I was instantly both mad and embarrassed. Then one of them whispered to me, “Hey Kyle, isn’t that your grandmother?” I didn’t know how to answer, so I lied and said I couldn’t see her very well. But sure enough, I was almost immediately called to the office for dismissal and as I got up and left they called me out, “It is your grandmother!” and they all started to laugh. When we got into the car I felt so bad that I started to cry. My grandmother asked me what was wrong and, lying again, I told her that I was just afraid of going to the dentist. She comforted me, we drove off, and that was that. I didn’t have the guts to defend the one person I loved more than anyone else in the world because I was embarrassed.

Sometimes in life we value lesser things over greater things. We value the opinions of our friends over the love of our grandmothers. Or we value the opinions of men over the love of God.

“This saying is trustworthy: if we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” These are the words of the Apostle Paul in our second reading today, his second letter to Timothy. Scholars are in agreement that this was probably the last letter Paul wrote before his death, and so it is not surprising to hear in them a great sense of urgency. Paul is strongly challenging us here and he’s offering us a very stark reminder: we’ve got one shot at this life and we don’t know how long it’s going to last, so we better make it count. We better get out priorities straight, we better figure out what it is that we value most in life, and we better be true to it. In other words, we have to be ready to die with Christ and to persevere in Him. If we’re not, if we deny Him, if we are unfaithful to Him, we cannot expect that He will recognize us when this journey of ours is complete.

There can be no doubt about it: our world today is growing increasingly secular and Christ is not merely being regulated to the sidelines, He’s being kicked to the curb. He’s being forgotten in marriages and in families, He’s being mocked by agenda-driven political activists, He’s being ignored in our political life and in the voting booth. Christians throughout the United States and the first-world are happy to love Him in private, to reap the graces He gives us in our private lives, but He embarrasses us in public and so we, too, so easily ignore Him. We don’t say grace before eating in public, we hide the crosses around our necks, and we never breathe a word of our love for Him. No doubt some of us are scared of what other people will think of us…but the reality is, the more we cower, the more we refuse to be ourselves in private and public, the more we’re going to appropriate the opinions of the crowds in our own life. We’ll slowly grow tired of being hypocrites until one day we give Him up altogether, denying Him and placing ourselves in the popular ranks of the unfaithful.

One day while I was walking to class in Washington, D.C., a truck pulled up next to me. A man rolled down the window and started yelling obscenities at me. He spit at the ground where I was walking and then took off. I was wearing my clerical collar and so I was a very obvious target. I was angry and embarrassed. But soon after that, a few of my fellow seminarians ran up behind me, patted me on the shoulder, and encouraged me. I immediately felt stronger, calmer, and more resolute in my vocation. There’s certainly truth to the old saying that “there’s strength in numbers.” And this is exactly why Christ doesn’t let us follow Him by ourselves as lone wolves. He gives us the Church, His very body, and He calls us to follow Him as a body. When the going gets tough, we can rely on the strength of the rest of the body to hold us up.

My friends, as members of the Church, as the Body of Christ, we have to get better at this. We have to get better at banding together, standing for our beliefs, and defending our Christ. We have to get better at wearing our faith inside and out, at loving and forgiving one another, and getting serious about the most important things in life. We have to stop being so darned concerned with our political agendas, our bank accounts, and what others think about us, and start getting rock solid in our faith so that when one of us feels the pressure of the world, he or she has something strong to hold on to. We have to start being proud of the One we love above all else, whether it’s in our living room or in Monument Square, whether they praise us or laugh at us, whether they accept us or reject us.

“No servant is greater than his master; if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Let us be bold, my friends…bold, courageous, and faithful. And when we’re afraid, or embarrassed, or angry, or hurt, let’s make sure that we keep returning to this altar where the Way, the Truth, and the Life will strengthen us.