The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Homily: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Readings: Wis 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Ps 30; 2Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mk 5:21-43

Oh, what a gospel reading this is for us! Mark, inspired by the Sprit, blends these two events, these two healings by Jesus. He sandwiches them together so you and I won’t miss the point. Two people confront Jesus on this day in Galilee – two very different people.

The first is Jairus. Now Jairus was an important man, an official of the local synagogue, the man who oversaw its administration and finances. And because he was an important man, everybody knew him, or wanted to be known by him. Everyone who was anyone wanted to be his friend.  That’s how it is with important people.

We all know men like Jairus. He’s the first to know, the first to have, the first to shake your hand, to slap you on the back, the first to be invited, the first to be served, the last to be overlooked. You couldn’t miss Jairus even if you tried. He was a man to be noticed.

'...he fell at His feet and pleaded..."
And Jairus had a family; he had friends and servants, a life filled with people who cared for him. He had probably lived a good life, too, a life where all had gone well…until now. For Jairus would gladly give up everything he had, everything he was, to save his daughter who was near death. For 12 years Jairus loved this daughter of his, loved her as only a father can love. And so in desperation he approached Jesus. No, that’s wrong. He didn’t just approach Jesus. This important man fell at Jesus’ feet and begged for his daughter’s life.

How different from those important people in the last synagogue Jesus visited. There they were plotting to kill him. But perhaps none of them had a dying child. On his knees, looking up, Jairus asks Jesus to come and lay hands on the girl, to mediate God’s grace and power and deliver his daughter from death – his little girl who has lived only 12 years.

Moved by this father’s love, Jesus accompanies Jairus. They are followed by the crowd, the crowd that always followed Jesus. And it’s in this crowd that we encounter another in need of healing.

For 12 Years Jairus has enjoyed the presence of his daughter. But unlike Jairus, the woman in the crowd has spent those same 12 years on the outside looking in. For 12 years, she was the last one at the well, the last one at the marketplace, the last to be noticed, and the first to turn away. For 12 years, she lived life on the fringes, avoiding people, avoiding contact, avoiding everything… everything except shame. For the past 12 years, she in effect stood among the captives, longing to be free; because for 12 years a flow of blood had made her unclean according to Jewish law.

Her friends had likely disappeared a long time ago. They were lost, along with her money and her pride. If she had anything -- anything left at all, she would have given it up just to be healed. By the time she encountered Jesus she had been 12 years without real human contact; 12 years without the prayers of the synagogue; 12 years of loneliness. Lonely, even in a crowd, she had learned long ago how to be almost invisible.

There are men and women just like her today. They’re all around us. You see them at the soup kitchen or in line at the food pantry or hoping for help at the free clinic. You see them on the streets and alleyways of our cities. You see them in your neighborhood, eating alone, living alone, always alone. She’s the one whose eyes are on the ground, the one you might notice -- just for a moment, out of the corner of your eye -- before she slips away. I know you’ve seen her. Sometimes she’s in front of you at the checkout counter, counting out her change to buy a small bag of groceries. And sometimes you see her in the city, the one who lives her life along the edge of the curb, among the empty wrappers and the discarded cans. Of course sometimes, perhaps most times, we don’t even notice her. Or when we do, we wonder why they let these crazy people out on the streets. Yes, the woman who reached out to touch Jesus is with us still.

You and I, then, along with Jesus, encounter two very different people – both in desperate need, both turning to Jesus filled with hope. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mark asks us to look at these two people, to look at them together, as he nests their stories one within the other.

They’re so different, these two. Jairus, the man of importance, doesn’t hesitate. Sure of himself, he goes in search of Jesus, finds Him, approaches Him directly. He’s the kind of man who can say, “Jesus, help me!” and trust he’ll be welcomed and heard.

But the woman buries herself in the crowd…she’s different, isn’t she? She’s too timid, too ashamed to approach Jesus directly. 12 years of hiding, 12 years of shame have had their effect. Without place, position, privilege, and power, she believes she will have no welcome. The thought of more rejection is just too much for her. Instead of approaching Jesus openly, which would only bring on more shame, more public humiliation, she decides instead to sneak up on Him. If she can just touch His garment, His healing power will flow through her; then she can slip away silently.
"If I but touch His clothes..."

But Jesus sees her, doesn’t He? He feels her presence. He sees her just as clearly as He saw Jairus. Yes, He sees them both that day in Galilee. Jesus never allows the person in front of Him to hide the person lost in the crowd. Unlike us, His eyes are never so focused on the obvious that He misses those who live on the fringes, those who hide just out of view. No, Jesus never lifts His eyes to gaze up at those who are so caught up in their own importance; for then He might overlook those who have stumbled and fallen. Jesus sees what you and I so often ignore.

But perhaps you did notice that both Jairus and the woman fall to the ground as they approach Jesus. Yes, Jairus, blessed in life, knows the source of those blessings. And so he falls at Jesus’ feet and begs for one more blessing. But the woman…she’s so very different. Jesus must call her to Him. Filled with fear and trembling, she too falls at His feet. She knows she’s been healed, and knows too that the power of God flows from this man whose garment she touched.

"Talitha koum"
But Jesus wants to remove her fear of approaching Him. He wants her to know that her wholeness came from her faith and that she can always approach Him. Only then, when she understands this, does he send her on her way: “Go in peace.” He does much the same when He arrives at the home of Jairus and is told the girl has died: “Do not be afraid. Just have faith,” he says. Maybe that’s why the Spirit invites us to read about these two healings, one inside the other.

Two very different people – one in comfort and position, another in poverty and obscurity – but both come to Jesus in faith; both approach Him humbly and hopefully. I suspect both came away from their encounter with Jesus fully aware that, as Paul told the Corinthians in our second reading, we own nothing; everything comes from God.

Maybe we’re not supposed to wonder whose need was greater, or whose faith was stronger, or why Jesus stopped to talk with the woman when a little girl was dying and needed him so desperately. Maybe it’s enough for us to know that Jesus saw them both, was there for both!

That’s the wonder of being a Christian, brothers and sisters. Jesus will see us too and be there for us if we approach Him in humility, in hope, and in faith. Of course, the other part of being a Christian is recognizing Jesus in those who stand before us, those who hide in the crowd waiting for us to see them, waiting for us to love them as Jesus loves them.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Off to College...or not

Not long ago President Obama suggested that as a nation we provide free education for anyone who attends a community college. For the president this program would be an extension of the K through 12 public education available to all Americans. We'd simply be adding another two years of public education and providing our young people with a higher education head start.

Sounds good...until we look into it more deeply. The first question that comes to mind is "What will it cost?" We can be sure of one thing: like every government program the cost will always be grossly underestimated. Believe me, the per-student costs of a community college are substantially higher than that of your local public elementary, middle or high school, and once the government starts to foot the bill for all those additional students, the costs will skyrocket. Why do you think the cost of a college education has grown at a rate that far exceeds the rate of inflation? Once the government got into the student loan and grant business, our institutions of higher education came to realize the sky's the limit. At many colleges and universities the amenities provided to students rival those of expensive resorts. And today the typical college professor enjoys a most comfortable salary. Full professors average near $100,000 while entry-level assistant professors typically earn close to $70,000. Not bad for what many educators consider a part-time job.

About 20 years ago I worked at a private Catholic college. One morning in early May, as waited to pour my first cup of coffee in the faculty lounge, I asked a tenured professor of English if he were looking forward to the summer. His response, "Oh, yes indeed. I always enjoy the summer. I go from doing nothing to doing absolutely nothing!" Was he joking? Of course, but not completely. He arrived every morning before his first class and left immediately after his last class. He spent most of his time between classes in the faculty lounge. He had taught the same courses for years, perhaps decades, and quite likely hadn't had an original thought since becoming a tenured professor. In fairness, he was certainly not typical of that college's professors, but neither was he alone in his attitude. My point is that many educators are paid very well for very little work.

Another, perhaps less obvious, objection to the president's plan relates to its benefits. What will it accomplish? In other words, will it really achieve anything worthwhile? The prevailing wisdom states unequivocally that if someone wants to succeed in our society today he must get a college education and earn a degree. I admit I once thought the same, but not any longer.

Virtually all public and too many private colleges and universities no longer mandate the kind of liberal arts studies that result in a well-educated graduate, an adult ready to assume the responsibilities of a good, productive citizen. When I graduated from high school (over 50 years ago), every leading college and university required students to complete a course in the development of Western Civilization. Today very few, if any, of these schools do so. (See the National Association of Scholars report: The Vanishing West: 1964-2010.) Many of these institutions have also eliminated foreign language requirements, as well as mandatory courses in subjects long considered an essential part of a liberal education. The study of history has sadly become history, and we wonder why so many seemingly educated young people cannot name the nations we fought in World War II or in what century the Civil War took place. But even more disturbing they are completely ignorant of the roots of our American experiment. I suppose this is to be expected since in most institutions the few remaining liberal arts courses have been tainted by an extreme form of political correctness that does nothing but promote leftist ideology. And for this the student's parents and the taxpayers pay big bucks.

Too many of today's 22-year-old college graduates are poorly educated and unqualified for the rapidly changing job market. They know all about micro-aggression, discrimination, the wonders of multiculturalism, and the irrelevance of dead white males, but know virtually nothing of the real world in which they must compete.

If a young people were to ask me today for career advice I'd probably suggest that they would be better off spending their scarce resources -- their time and money -- learning the skills of one of the many trades in such high demand. A few years ago I might have suggested a stint in the armed forces where they could learn not only valuable technical skills but also the basics of leadership and management. Sadly, today's military is at the forefront of political correctness and I'd be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone. No, today I'd suggest that a young person consider becoming a welder, or an electrician, or a computer programmer. Indeed, good coders are highly sought after (and highly paid) by companies who couldn't care less whether or not their employees have college degrees. (It's remarkable how many of these firms were started by college dropouts.) 

Even better, I'd suggest they develop a long-term plan to achieve entrepreneurship, to start their own company, and learn the necessary financial and management skills. Additionally thanks to the Internet, anyone can round out their education by studying the liberal arts online and do so at their own speed while avoiding the ideologues of the left. This, too, I would recommend.

I'd also remind them that their most important task in life is to love God and neighbor, to find their way to salvation. And, trust me, you don't need a college degree to do that.