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Homily

Homily for 5th Sunday in Lent

March 29, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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Massive change came to this country this month. For Catholics it came in a way never ever imagined—not being able to come together to celebrate the Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist.

Many feel like strangers living in a strange land, wondering when life will ever return to “normal” again. Many feel like they have been entombed in their own homes, and that the land they have lived in all their lives has changed into a place of exile.

To just such a people the Word of God comes through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” (37:12) To a people living in exile in Babylon, unable to worship at their temple in Jerusalem, Ezekiel speaks, assuring them that what God promises he will do— he will restore their lives and their land and their temple. To a people living in America, sheltering in place for 2 weeks now, who feel like they’ve been enclosed in a tomb, God speaks: I will open your tombs and have you rise from them.

During this time of COVID-19, a time of paralyzing fear and overwhelming anxiety, the Lord God promises to remove the stones from the tombs we live in, calling us into the light of a new day, restoring us to our place of worship, and granting us new life.

With the man born blind last Sunday, we could only be healed by Jesus by admitting our blindness. The gift given to those who recognize their blindness is that Jesus, as the Light of the World, can then help them see. So this Sunday we can only receive this new life by recognizing we are not fully alive, by acknowledging we live in tombs, some of our own making.

As the One who is Resurrection and Life, Jesus keeps calling us to new life, to a more abundant life, to a life lived more fully in the radiance of His saving love. Many of us go through life thinking we are certainly alive, but this Gospel suggests there is more to life than simply making it from one birthday to the next. This Gospel helps us to recognize that we are dead people because of the deeds of our lives that are not signs of life.

These can be sinful attitudes which we are blind to that deaden our hearts and souls, so we cry out: “Lord, I am blind. Help me to see.” Or during this time when life has slowed down for so many of us, we can see more clearly how being so busy, running hither and thither from one thing to the next, is a way of being entombed. Why? Because we never take time to reflect upon what is essential and who is most important, and then act on those convictions.

So, we join Martha by professing our belief in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. Remember, “to believe” in John’s Gospel is not an intellectual act, but a movement of the heart outwards toward the other. The Greek word “pistouen” from which the English “to believe” comes from simply means “to give one’s heart to.” Martha and Mary and Lazarus, in their long-lasting friendship with Jesus, have given their heart to Jesus, and he to them, over and over and over again.

Today the Risen Jesus, the One who is Resurrection and Life, calls us with Lazarus to come out of the tombs we live. He brings life out of death, joy from the well of sorrow, and fills us with hope when uncertainty and fear cloud our vision.

As St. Paul reminds us, the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us. By our baptism, the life-giving Holy Spirit dwells in us, each day empowering us to enter more fully into life with the Spirit-led One, Jesus the Christ.

This Spirit, which is stronger than death itself, also enlightens us to understand the deeper significance of the life we have been given in the Risen Christ. Lazarus was resuscitated—he would live a little longer, but then he would eventually die. Risen Life, the life we now share in with Christ by the power of His Spirit, enables us to “never die.” As we give our hearts and entire lives to Jesus, when we breathe our last breath on this earth, we pass over with Him who is Resurrection and Life to take our next breath of the fullness of life eternal.

The Spirit which transformed Jesus’ human body into a glorified body, a body in which he still lives and will live forever, is the same Spirit dwelling within us by baptism.

These bodies, these earthen vessels, carry about in them a treasure untold, the very life of God. We have not yet entered into the fullness of that life, but we are experiencing a taste of it now. So do not fear the death of these mortal bodies, for our hope rests in the Lord and our eternal home is with Him.

The Holy Spirit gifts us with fortitude to persevere in our trust in the Lord. The Spirit of the Living God grants us the courage to keep entrusting our lives and the lives of our loved ones into the hands of God.

We are invited to drink more deeply of this Living Water given us at baptism, to immerse ourselves more fully into this Water of Life, and to allow this River of Grace, who is the Spirit of life, to carry us forward into a future full of hope.


6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 16, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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We get a lot of instructions from Jesus today, part of his continued commentary on the Beatitudes which we might have heard on the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time had we not celebrated the Feast of the Purification two weekends past. Matthew is really clever with the way he starts this section, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law, BUT.” That word, “but”, is a really clever way of teasing our expectations. It makes us stayed tuned for what is to follow. Yet, when he goes on, I’m left scratching my head over what it means to fulfill, and that is exactly where Matthew wants us to be today: wondering about what it means to fulfill the law.

Perhaps we might think about it this way. Most of us think that when we are obeying the law, whatever law it is, we are doing the right thing and doing what is expected. That is what the Scribes and Pharisees thought and taught; just keep the law. That is why they got so bent of shape when Jesus cured someone in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He broke two laws! He did some work on the sabbath, and he touched someone who was sick.

The conflict that gets in your face over this is whether or not just keeping the law is fulfilling the law, since the purpose of the law is to express the Will of God. What this Word of God calls into question is the minimalism of keeping the law when there are greater needs. A law is fulfilled when we do more than the law requires. The fulfillment comes from recognizing that doing the minimum is not enough. It’s just enough to squeak by and not be accused of anything, certainly to be accused of any greatness.

The law says: “Do not steal.” Well, ok; I don’t take anything that isn’t mine. What greatness is there in that? How does that fulfill the law? How about not stealing, but at that the same time giving something away to someone who might steal because of their need? The law says: “Do not Kill.” Well, OK. It doesn’t look as though there is anyone who has murdered in here, but does that fulfill the law? How about giving life, or doing something that makes life more bearable for someone on the margins of life? Is it really God’s will that we just pass through this life on earth and never kill anyone? Is that all God asks of us? We know better.

Matthew knew that in every religious community there are scribes and Pharisees, learned but self-serving people. Matthew warns against such hypocrites whose external religious masks can hide an irreligious heart. We are a people called and taught to surpass the scribes and Pharisees.

There is a call here to righteousness that is not achieved by just keeping the rules. There is only one Righteous One. It is God. In seeking righteousness, we are on a path to become like God.

At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus revealed to us what God is like and how we might become like God – by practicing and living in Beatitude. That is why when you come into church you see the 10 commandments on the granite monument by the front door, and then when you leave, you see the Beatitudes on the same monument.

When we become poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and clean of heart, the law will be fulfilled, and there will be no more killing, no more infidelity, lust, lies, or broken promises. Best of all, we will be living without anger, and will be at peace with ourselves and with one another just as God intended.


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 26, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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Recently I went out to eat lunch with a friend. He wanted to treat me to a meal at the Cheesecake factory, along with some of that famously delicious dessert, and then to a movie afterward.

At this meal, my friend immediately made a connection with the young man who waited on our table. He asked the young man’s name and then called him by name every time he came by to fill our tea and water glasses. With a few questions, he found out that our waiter was attending OU and that he was a graduate of Mustang High School.

My friend can come across as a bit gruff and tough. His effort to make a connection with our waiter was intentionalbeing friendly is not naturally pa11 of who he is. It was something he was making an effort to do, because of my friend’s faith. It was his way of showing this young man waiting on our table that he mattered, that he was not just someone working for us and thus “below” us, but that he had an inherent dignity which called forth respect and interest and compassion from my friend.

The connection he made with our waiter probably meant just as much as the generous tip he left on the table for him. My friend also does this with whoever checks him out at the grocery store. He made the same effort, though with a much more limited window of time, with the person who took our movie tickets and directed us to where our movie was showing.

Now this may sound like a small thing, but it is actually huge in the plan of God. Connecting with another person makes all the difference in the world, for such an effort says, “I care. You are important.” Such loving attention & interest is a way of sharing the good news of God’s love in Christ. So often, though, the opposite happens, as we bury ourselves in our cell phones at a restaurant, bank, or store, and don’t even pay attention to the person who is serving us. Often we interact with others w/out even making contact, much less a connection w/them.

Jesus connected with people so they would want to enter into relationship with him. This is what Jesus did over and over again with people.

This loving attention began with the Incarnation, as the Son of God came down to our level, to the human level, because he wanted to connect with us. He burned with a deep desire to enter into a friendship with humanity and with individual persons.

Surely this is what happened with the call of Andrew, Peter, James and John. Jesus lived in Capernaum and most likely encountered these four before he invited them to follow him, maybe at the fish market or elsewhere. He came to know their names and showed an interest in their lives. He connected with them and hooked them by his love for them.

So that when he walked by and simply said, “Come after me,” they were willing to leave the security of their present life behind to be with him. Notice this is first and foremost what Jesus is inviting them to do-to be with him. We can imagine the 2 sets of brothers and Jesus sitting down to break bread later that day and over a meal coming to know each other even better. He is not inviting them into a certain ideology or group, but to his very person! He is not inviting them to do something, but to be with him, to go where he goes.

This was Jesus’ modus-operandi, the way he operated as he established the relationship model of the Kingdom of heaven. He would go out to where people were, meet them where they were at, share a meal with them, get to know them and open his heart for them to know him.

This connection with others happened in the most ordinary of ways, but it was always intentional. He did not sit in the temple in Jerusalem and hope people would come to him to learn about the kingdom of heaven, about the great good news of the Gospel. He went out to them to invite them into a love story, God’s love for the human race.

The way we connect with the Risen Jesus today happens in a multitude of ways, but the easiest and most consistent way is by listening to Him speak to us in the Gospels. By taking time to be with him each day in His Word, we come to know him better. [tis where he comes to meet us and to speak to us. Pope Francis has declared this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary time to be “The Sunday of the Word of God”. In doing so, our Pope wants to emphasize the importance of Scriptures but most especially of the 4 Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Pope Francis carries around a small book with the Gospels in it, and whenever he has a short break, he pulls it out, and listens to what the Lord Jesus is saying through His Word.

By listening to the Risen Jesus speak to us through the Gospels, we connect with him. It is how we can do so easily and naturally, coming to know him better and entering deeper into relationship with him. When many people think of prayer, they think of it as a one-way conversation, of giving God a to-do list for the day. Others complain that God never speaks to them. By daily immersing ourselves in the Word of God, especially in the Gospels, we enter into a two-way conversation with the Lord where he speaks to us if we but listen.

If we have never prayed with the Word of God, there are several basic things which help us listen better. First, find a place that is quite, where you can be in silence, away from the noise of TV, phones, and other devices. Choose a regular time every day when you can take at least 5-10 minutes to read and reflect on the Word of God. The easiest way to choose a Gospel passage is to use the passage that will be proclaimed at daily Mass or at Sunday Mass—the verses for these Gospel passages are listed in our bulletin or you can find them online. When you have the passage marked in your bible, read it our loud, and listen for a word or a phrase that strikes you. Ask Jesus questions about this word or phrase, chew on it. This can then become a way to talk to Jesus about anything and everything going on in your life.

In the person and life of Jesus, we see how God is by nature a fisherman. In Jesus, God searches for us in the deep waters where we hide, baiting and hooking us by his love. He reels us in out of the watery depths of our old life clouded by the darkness of fear, into the light, into the light of a new world. Where he will never ever let us go, for we are caught in a love story that snags us for life. He even gives himself to us as food and drink to live this new life.

So that we can go forth as fishers of men and women, to meet others where they are, and reel them into the Kingdom of Heaven.


Baptism of the Lord

January 12, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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Until his baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, Jesus lives a “hidden life.” Then everything changes. The Father’s voice booming from heaven announces in a very public way, “This is my beloved Son!” In some way Jesus knew this to be true before his baptism, but his experience at the Jordan awakens in him in powerful way who he is: he is more than the Son of Mary, more than the carpenter’s son. Jesus is God’s beloved son in whom God is well pleased.

Thus, his public ministry begins and flows from his baptism, as Jesus goes forth to awaken that identity in others, their ultimate identity as beloved children of God. He will do this with Matthew the tax collector and with Peter the fisherman, with Mary Magdalene and with countless others. Matthew and Peter and Mary came to love what Jesus loved in them, to see and receive their dignity as God’s beloved.

Then Jesus sends them forth to do the same. This is what evangelization looks like: Evangelization, sharing the Good News of God’s love, happens when awakened people awaken others to their true identity as children of God!

The challenge is that we live out our identity as beloved children of God within the limits of our humanity and our struggles with sin. More often than not, instead of experiencing this communion with the Triune God forged in the fiery waters of our baptism, we instead live in alienation from our true identity.

Which is why we need someone to show us the way through our alienation to a life in communion. Which is why we need someone—Jesus–to take away our sin and show us the way to live as a beloved child of God.

This is why a life of prayer is vitally important, because prayer is simply a conversation with One who loves us, who reminds us who we are as a child of God. When we rest daily with Jesus in prayer we remember we are sons and daughters of God in the Son of God.

Jesus wants to teach us the way through our alienation, which is why ongoing study of his teachings form a solid foundation for our identity in Him as beloved children of Father. This year the beloved child of God will teach us these truths through the good news of the evangelist Matthew. Jesus, the new Moses in Matthew, has much to teach us and we have much to learn.

Loved by the Son of God who seeks us out wherever we may be hiding, we want to return that love and live out of our dignity as God’s children by sharing generously the gifts we have been given in service of others and for the glory of God’s kingdom.

We become “evangelists,” sharers of the Great Good News, by awakening others to their child of God identity. Empowered by the Spirit, the living waters of our baptism, the fire of divine life, we love others so generously and joyfully that they awaken to the truth of who they are—God’s beloved sons and daughters.

Toward this goal and to this end, our parish is embarking on a 5-year journey of renewal with the help of Dynamic Catholic, so that each one of us may receive more fully God’s great love for us in Christ Jesus and then share that love more generously with others.

A couple of months ago I was contacted by the Office of New Evangelization and Catechesis at the Archdiocese about a new initiative of Dynamic Catholic. Some of you may know Dynamic Catholic through the books or events featuring its founder, Matthew Kelly. This past Christmas I shared with you another of his books, “Rediscover the Saints.” Dynamic Catholic has been around for 10 years, and this organization has spent the majority of that time researching and developing resources which help people rediscover the genius of Catholicism.

Dynamic Catholic is launching something new called, “Dynamic Parish.” Dynamic Parish is an effort to help every parish in America not just survive, but to truly become a parish on fire with the love of God.

When I met with the team at Dynamic Catholic, they made our parish an offer they would only extend to 5 parishes in our archdiocese. In exchange for being part of a 5-year pilot study, Dynamic Catholic would provide about a million dollars worth of world-class resources in books, programs, parish best-practices, and regular coaching for the parish leadership team.

After discussing it with Deacon Paul, our parish’s pastoral associate, the rest of the members of our parish staff, and our Pastoral Council, I said “yes.”

I did not say yes because I thought taking our parish community to the next level would be easy. It will certainly be challenging at times.

Rather, I said yes, because I believe our future at Holy Spirit Parish can be bigger and even brighter than our past.

I said yes because I want to see, along with a new church building, a renewal of the “living Church,” those who make up this community of faith.

I said yes because I hope that our parish can become everything God intends it to be.

I said yes, because I know that alone as separate individuals we can accomplish little, but together, with God’s grace, there is almost no height we cannot reach.

For more on Dynamic Parish, let’s hear now from Matthew Kelly. (play video)


January 5, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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This beautiful Epiphany Gospel stirs up lots of questions about those on the “inside” who miss the revelation of the newborn King. Why do strangers from the east recognize that someone of great importance has been born in Israel while those in Israel fail to see what is right in front of them?

The ancient peoples believed that the birth of someone important would be mirrored by the birth in the heavens of a new star. But why do those who are closest to the star not see it?

Herod and the people of Jerusalem never notice the star shining bright in the night sky. Surely Herod would have noticed it on a nighttime stroll through the rooftop garden of his royal palace. But Herod is imprisoned in the airless sky of his own mind.

For you have to look up into the darkness in order to see the birth of a new star. You can’t be looking down, weighed down by worries and concerns. Herod’s attitude symbolizes a busy world whose very life consists in exhausting itself with worry.

Also, if you want to see the star, you cannot be looking inward, or be self-centered, thinking only of yourself.

The failure to see the star is a failure of faith, for faith is the ability to see in the darkest of times the light of God’s presence.

But it’s more than being unaware of the star through a failure of faith, it’s also not paying attention to the treasure of Sacred Scripture. The chief priests and the scribes know the prophecy about the promised Messiah coming from Bethlehem, but they have failed to keep their hope alive in God’s promises. Hope does not live in them, otherwise they would have followed the light of Scripture leading them to the child of promise on their back doorstep in Bethlehem, only five and a half miles away from the mighty capital of Jerusalem.

This is a failure of hope, for hope is a lamp lighting one’s path through the darkest of days, strengthening one’s trust that God will be faithful to God’s promises. Rooted in the Word of God, we are able to live in hope.

But the question that should trouble us more than any other is: “Why did Herod and the chief priests and scribes not accompany the magi on the final part of their journey to Bethlehem? Why did they remain behind?” Maybe they were afraid that a new king might strip them of their power and position. Herod definitely is power-hungry and fearful someone will rob him of his power. Fear keeps Herod and others in Jerusalem in the dark.

Fear prevents one from taking the risk to love and be loved; fear blocks one from leaving what one is certain of for the uncertainty “out there”; fear slams the door on welcoming the “stranger” into one’s life.

Fear stands in stark contrast to love. The failure of anyone in Jerusalem to accompany the magi is a FAILURE OF LOVE. Love overcomes fear; love conquers fear. (cf. 1 John 4:18)

The beauty and mystery of the Epiphany story attracts us to accompany the magi in the search for God. We are so fascinated by their story because the magi are us; their story is our story.

We, too, have a deep longing for God, an ache for God, which we cannot ignore. We look for signs in the heavens and in our daily life which will point to God’s presence with us.

We dull this desire for intimacy with God in many different ways— with work or drugs or busyness or the many distractions of modern technology. But we cannot extinguish the flame of desire for God within us, a light which brightens the darkness, because our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Our longing for God is God’s gift to us, drawing us to Himself.

Like the magi, in our quest for God and relationship with God, we are invited into the unknown. We are called away from our comfort zones and into new lands, new places. Faith – our ongoing response to the loving invitation of God to an intimate friendship —is meant to be an adventure.

Maybe some of us have stopped exploring, have stayed put, unwilling to say “YES” to wherever the Lord wants to lead us.

Like the magi, on our journey of faith into the darkness of the unknown, we encounter obstacles, King-Herod-size-obstacles that want to use and destroy us. But we also encounter aids, especially assistance from our companions who urge us on. Our companions on this journey are both those on this earth and those saints who shine like stars in heaven, encouraging us by their prayers and example to keep on keeping on.

So, with the magi, we go forth daily on this adventure of faith, hope and love.

We seek the Lord Jesus. We long for Him. We bring Him all that we have and are in adoration.

He is the King of Kings and brother to us in all things. He desires us to embrace others, especially strangers, as our brothers and our sisters. Jesus invites us to trust that “outsiders” can point out His presence in our midst.

Then we can be His radiant presence to others during times when they walk in darkness.

For the Lord Jesus is the Light of the World, and He longs to shine through us to others who are looking for Him.


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