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.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Homily: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

I have embedded a video of this homily here. The text is posted below the video.

Readings: Am 6:1,4-7; Ps 146; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31
Lazarus – it’s a name that means, “God has helped.”

Interesting, isn't it? In all of Jesus' parables, Lazarus is the only person who's given a name. It's as if Jesus wants to be sure we see the poor, the forgotten, the dispossessed, the helpless as unique human beings, as children of God with names attached. And yet Lazarus was almost invisible, wasn't he? Invisible, but he had a name.

After we've heard the parable a few times, we wonder how he ended up as he did. What did he do? Did they have drug addicts or alcoholics in first-century Galilee? I don't know, maybe, but probably not.

So, what happened to him? Had he been injured? No workman’s comp back then. Maybe that’s what happened. 

Was he a thief, like the dishonest steward in that other parable? Did he get fired? The word gets around doesn’t it? And no one else would hire him.

Maybe he just got sick. Or could he simply be one of those people who've always been like that? Always lost, never able to climb out of the depths.

Jesus doesn’t tell us, though, does He? 

But we 21st-century Christians can’t help but wonder. He probably did something, or just refused to do anything.

We really don't know much about him, do we? Jesus simply tells us what he is, not how he got there. 

He has a name, though. His name is Lazarus.

Then there’s the rich man, tucked away in the warmth and comfort of his home. Yes, he was well-dressed, well-fed, well-rested…and he was also nameless.

Have you ever wondered why?

If Jesus had given him a name, well that’s who he’d be. And it would be harder to see ourselves in him, wouldn’t it? Easier to do if he doesn’t have a name. Maybe that's why he was nameless.

The rich man really doesn’t care about Lazarus, because he doesn’t even know he’s there. Yes, Lazarus is invisible, isn’t he? Even lying there right outside the door.

Did the rich man’s servants throw him a scrap or two? Doesn’t sound like it. Maybe one of them did. But we’ve all watched Downton Abbey, haven’t we? And seen how the servants can become more aristocratic than the aristocrats.

At least the dogs liked him…and licked his sores. I’m not really sure if that’s good or bad.

But then Lazarus dies, and he’s carried by angels into paradise, to the bosom of Abraham.

The rich man also dies, but he’s not so fortunate. He calls out to Abraham, “Have pity on me…for I am suffering torment in these flames.”

And it’s only in death that he learned about Lazarus.

Had the rich man mistreated Lazarus? No, he really did nothing to the poor man.

Did he swear at him, or yell at him? No, as far as we know he never said a world to Lazarus.

And to our knowledge he wasn’t like those rich folks the prophet Amos railed against. They cheated people. They stole from the poor. And they lied about it. But the rich man in the parable? He didn't do any of those things. He was just rich and he lived well because he was rich.

He didn’t really see the poor around him. They were invisible, even the one lying at his doorstep, the one named Lazarus.

You see, brothers and sisters, it’s not always what we do, is it? It’s often what we fail to do. It’s our sins of omission that create that “great chasm” that can separate you and me from the salvation God desires for us. 
I think about that chasm sometimes, and all the omissions of my life, omissions that have deepened it and widened it.

And that’s when I remember a man named Willie.

It didn’t seem important, not at the time...

Just another poor man, dressed like the bums who came knocking at the door when I was a kid in New York.

That's what we called them then...bums.

Remember? You do if you’re old enough, and didn’t live in a fancy house with a fence and a gate to keep the riffraff out.

My mom would give them a sandwich, maybe a paper cup of lemonade, and always a paper napkin.

She’d talk to them too, just a few words of encouragement, a promise to pray, and always a smile.

Back in 1951, for about a year we lived in a little beachfront cottage right here in Florida, in Panama City Beach. 

It was very different in those days. The chain gangs would pass the house every afternoon - a black gang and then a white gang - they were segregated back then, even the chain gangs.

Mom would take paper cups and a pitcher of cold water or lemonade out to the road - Highway 98, a very quiet highway in 1951.

I'd sometimes tag along, just to see the prisoners, and the guard's shotgun.

Mom would ask the guard, "...if the boys could have some?”

He’d always say yes. And then, as she filled the cups, she’d smile at them and promise to pray.

Anyway, I guess I’d forgotten that the hungry need more than food, that the thirsty need more than drink.

It didn’t seem important. After all it’s a soup kitchen and folks like Willie came there for food. We always gave him a meal, a good hot meal, with a nice dessert, and seconds until we ran out.

That seemed like enough. It really did.

I even brought him coffee when he came in early, as he always did – cream, lots of sugar – just the way he liked it.

I carried the coffee to his table, so he didn’t have to get up. I thought that was pretty good on my part.

It didn’t seem important, at least not to me.

After all, I was working at the soup kitchen, doing God’s work, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, doing those corporal works of mercy, being the good Christian God wants me to be.

I’d hand him that cup of hot coffee and I’d smell the booze, the old stale smell of cheap booze on his breath.

He’d slur a “thankya” but missing all those teeth he was hard to understand. So, I’d just nod and hurry back to the kitchen. I was busy.

I think I actually talked with him once. I guess I had the time that morning.

After I handed him his coffee, he looked up at me and said, “Pastor…”

He’d always call me, Pastor,” even though I told him, time and again, that I was a deacon at St. Vincent de Paul Church. I was not a pastor.

Anyway, this day he looked up at me and asked, “Pastor, do ya think I’ll go to heaven?"

“Sure,” I laughed, “of course, you will.”

We talked for maybe a minute, but it just didn’t seem important…

Until they found him lying there, early on that cold morning, one of those frozen mornings we sometimes get here in Florida in early February.

Curled up on the hard ground behind the bushes, with his face looking up.

He had died outside the door of the soup kitchen.

It just didn’t seem important to ask him about his life, to pray with him, or hug him, or tell him of God’s love for him.

...and so, I never did.

But after he died I learned his name was Willie.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Homily: Exaltation of the Holy Cross - September 14

I have embedded a video of this homily below. The full text of the homily follows.

Readings: Num 21:4-9; Ps 78; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is an ancient feast, dating to the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in 335 A.D. The church encloses both Golgotha and Jesus' tomb, and on this site St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, found the true cross. 

St. Helena
Among the many legends surrounding this event is one that says Helena found three crosses. Since she couldn't identify the real one, each cross was placed on a man suffering from a severe handicap. The true cross was the one that healed.

If there are doubts about the actual cross, there is less doubt about the site. The church was completely destroyed on several occasions; first by the Persians in 614 AD. When Jerusalem was recaptured, the cross was brought back from Persia in triumph and enthroned in the partially rebuilt church. The church was destroyed again in 1009 by the Egyptian Caliphate, along with every other church in the Holy Land, except the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem. 

But in the 12th century the church was rebuilt once again, this time by Crusaders. Emperor Heraclius intended to carry the cross during the dedication ceremony; but he couldn't budge it, and so Bishop Zachary told him to remove his royal garments. Heraclius changed clothes, put on penitential garb, and carried the cross easily.

Such legends about the true cross abound. Whether or not they're true, they still offer us some truths in which we can take comfort and apply in our lives. Just like St. Helena's handicapped man, we too can experience the healing power of the cross. And it's been healing throughout time.

Listen again to these words of our 1st reading from Numbers:

"with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses" [Num 21:4-5]

I don't know about you, but I can relate to this. The life of faith often seems like a long trip in the desert, and our faith can suffer. 

Because of their sin, their faithlessness, God's people were afflicted by venomous snakes. So God instructed Moses: 

"Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live" [Num 21:8].
The bronze serpent, lifted up, foreshadows the cross of Christ, which defeats sin and death and obtains everlasting life for those who believe.

From Jesus "being lifted up on the cross" and his Resurrection, we're reborn "in the Spirit" as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. God not only redeems us, but also fills us with divine life that we might share in his glory. 

Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit so we can witness to Him, spread and defend the gospel by word and action, and never be ashamed of Christ's Cross. This same Holy Spirit gives us his seven-fold gifts of wisdom and understanding, right judgment, and courage, knowledge and reverence for God and his ways, and a holy fear in God's presence that we may live God's way of life. Do we pray for the gifts of the Spirit? Do we thirst for new life in the Spirit? We should. We must. Another truth that comes out of those early legends: Like the emperor, In humility we can always glory in the Cross.

A friend, a Christian but not a Catholic, once told me that she didn't mind the cross, but she found a crucifix to be offensive. You see, for many, and for far too many Christians, Catholics included, Christ crucified is an embarrassment.

Our second reading, from Philippians, not only affirms our faith in Jesus as fully divine and fully human, but more than that, it affirms the Cross. It focuses on the seemingly absurd notion that the Creator of the universe allowed Himself to be murdered by His creatures. Yes, the Cross is a scandal to so many. They want a comfortable faith, like a warm blanket on a cold night, when of course, true Christian faith is really the Cross, the Cross with our God hanging on it.

Yes, the Cross is about a God who loves us so much He willingly suffered a painful, ignominious death. 

It's about suffering, something the world tells us to avoid. 

It's about redemption, something few people believe they really need. 

And it's about grace, something that few of us understand. Too often grace is seen as God's medicine, as His analgesic for life's difficult times. But before God's grace can heal, it often cuts with the sword Christ said He came to bring. Grace follows the crosses of our lives: illness, depression, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a crisis of faith, personal rejection...It's then, when we suffer the most, when we carry our cross, that God's grace is most abundant...if only we ask for it.

In John's Gospel we hear Jesus asking Nicodemus, a Jew, to understand the story of Moses lifting up the serpent in a new way, as a foreshadowing of the Cross of our redemption. And Jesus reassures Nicodemus and us with those wonderful words:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life" [Jn 3:16].
Jesus turned the cross, an instrument of cruelty and shame, into a symbol of God's love and glory. And as He hung on that cross, He transformed the world. He transformed history.
Our only response to this wonderful gift is prayer, obedience, and our feeble attempts to respond to His love by loving one another in His name. We are called to focus our gaze on Jesus, on Christ crucified, and on the glory of His Resurrection. Let us never be dulled to the power and promise of the Cross, and willingly share its sign with the world:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, September 13, 2019

How Old Is Old?

Today I became, according to our diocese here in central Florida, a Senior Deacon...Ta-da!

On a number of occasions parishioners, noticing that several deacons are listed in our Parish Bulletin as "senior deacons," have asked me, "What does a deacon have to do to become a senior deacon?" I think they assume the title must be conferred as a reward for some great accomplishment. When I tell them that seniority among deacons is strictly a function of age, they seem both surprised and disappointed. In other words, for a deacon to become a senior deacon he must have been born 75 years ago and still be able to fog a mirror. And today, for the very first time, I qualify.

I was born in the midst of World War II, just a few months after D-Day. But for my mom and dad a more immediate concern was the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 which reached its peak intensity as a category 4 on, you guessed it, September 13. A few days later it roared through coastal New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island making things a bit difficult for my mom. I don't know the details, but I can confirm that she made it to the hospital -- St. Vincent Hospital in Bridgeport, Connecticut -- and I was the result.

Today then, is my 75th birthday. I'm not a superstitious man, but today is also Friday the 13th, an interesting day to turn 75. But that's not all. This evening the heavens will also mark my birthday with a bright Harvest Moon, a full moon that rises just after sunset during the early fall months, this year in September. Take a moment this evening to step outside and glimpse our planet's nearest neighbor, to contemplate God's goodness and thank Him for the beauty and wonder of His Creation. 

I've been enjoying the clear pre-dawn mornings as Maddie and I take our dalily walk through our neighborhood. She tends to look downward so she can revisit the smells of the recent past. But I look upward and revisit the sights of a much more distant past. This morning I noticed that Betelgeuse, a red giant star in Orion, was particularly bright. At over 600 light years away, the orange dot we see is the result of light that began its journey at the end of the 14th century. I once read that Betelgeuse is one of those relatively short-lived stars -- only a few million years old -- that might well go supernova (i.e., explode) sometime during the next 1,000 years or so. Indeed, it could already have done so, but the visible effects simply haven't reached us yet. One astronomer wrote that this would be a truly spectacular sight, one that would rival the full moon in its brightness. By the way, Betelgeuse is so large, that if it replaced our sun, it would fill our solar system all the way out to Jupiter and perhaps even beyond. In other words, Earth would be inside this massive star, not a good place to be. Indeed, this star is so big I believe it's the only star (other than our sun) that we've been able to photograph and actually see its disk.
Betelgeuse compared to our solar system

I've long believed that God's gift of the universe helps us see our own lives more clearly. How wonderful that the God who created this magnificent universe has a personal and deep love for every person He has created. So often we get so wrapped up in the earthly problems that plague us, we think that only we can solve them, that we must solve them ourselves. Either we never consider asking God for help, or we assume He can't be bothered to deal with our petty concerns. But that's not how God is. The fact that He sent His Son to become one of us, to offer His life for us, is proof enough of His deep love for every human person. This is why it's good to look up at His universe every so often, just to remind ourselves how great God truly is. His Creation gives us a glimpse of His infinite power, something far beyond anything we can even imagine. God can handle anything. We need only ask.

Today I received a few pleasant and unexpected birthday phone calls, text messages, and emails...even a few snail-mail cards. The first call was from a Naval Academy classmate (1967), Buddy Barnes, whom I've probably seen only once or twice since we completed Naval flight training back in 1968. How kind of Buddy to call. We ended up talking for a good half-hour, just telling stories about our common experiences and the people we both knew way back when. Buddy left the Navy to fly for American Airlines and like most of us is now retired. He hopes to visit us here in Florida next year. It will be good to see him again. 

I also received calls from my two sons, Ethan and Brendan, and from my daughter, Erin, who was joined by four of her five children as they serenaded me with a peppy "Happy Birthday." The grandchildren all seemed surprised to learn how old I was...not a good sign. Young Eddie, however, was kind enough to say, "Well. Papa, you don't look that old." 

I intend to goof off this evening and trust all who read these words also give thanks for the blessings they have received.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Homily: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

I have embedded a video of my homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). The full text of the homily follows:


Readings: Wis 9:13-18; Ps 90; Phmn 9-10,12-17; Lk 14:25-33

For several weeks now, Jesus has given us some hard teachings. He certainly hasn't minced words has he? 

Perhaps before we attempt to grasp what Jesus is telling us in today's Gospel passage from Luke, we should consider the opening words of our first reading from the Book of Wisdom:
"For what man can learn the counsel of God? Or who can discern what the Lord wills? For the reasoning of mortals is worthless, and our designs are likely to fail" [Wis 9:13-14].  
In effect we're told that without God's help, without His revelation, we cannot understand His will for us, His plan for our salvation. We must, then, set aside our own human judgments, our own worldly concerns, and listen to what God is telling us. Too often we filter the words of Jesus through the lens of our humanity, forgetting that God's ways are very different from the ways of our world. 

Of course, this is nothing new. Remember how Our Lord rebuked Peter when the apostle tried to lead Jesus away from the Cross? How did Jesus respond?
"Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men" [Mt 16:23].
Believe me, like Peter, you and I can get caught up in our world, a world that colors so much of our thinking. It's hard to avoid it, especially today, so pervasive, so intrusive is the world in our lives. The great crowds surrounding Jesus might not have had the Internet, but they were plagued by their own set of worldly influences.

Interestingly, the fact that Jesus drew such crowds really bothered some folks, especially the self-important folks. That, too, hasn't changed much. Pope St. John Paul II visited 129 countries during his papacy, and drew huge crowds everywhere. I once heard a grumpy bishop say, "This pope probably travels too much. It might be better if he stayed in Rome and paid more attention to the Church."
St. John Paul, of course, knew that the Church isn't a collection of Vatican buildings and the people who occupy them. No, the Church is far more expansive; it fills the earth because Jesus called us to "Make disciples of all nations..." [Mt 28:19]. Like Jesus, St. John Paul traveled on his road, calling us all to discipleship.

But I wonder what that Galilean crowd thought when they heard these words of Jesus?
"If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" [Lk 14:26].
Maybe a more important question is, what do you and I think when we hear these words? 
Most people are troubled by the use of the word "hate" which seems to violate the very heart of Christian teaching. But we shouldn't get too bothered by the effects of translations. It's actually more accurate to understand hate in this sense as meaning "love less." This becomes clear when we read Matthew's account of this same teaching by Jesus:
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me." [Mt 10:37-38]
Here we seem to find words we can accept...but, in truth, we really don't accept them, do we? Or perhaps I should say, how we live our lives doesn't always reflect an acceptance of Jesus' teaching.

Jesus is actually telling His budding disciples what their discipleship is all about. He'd just called His twelve apostles and they were together on the road, making their way through the towns and villages of Galilee. But, as Luke tells us, they were joined by great crowds, who followed Jesus. 

It was to all of these that Jesus revealed something of God's will, the divine intention, and He did so through a pair of brief parables. On the surface the parables seem to address the construction of farm buildings and the tactics of waging war, but like every parable their true meaning is much deeper. 

Jesus was really describing the cost of discipleship, that if we hope to follow Him we'd better first calculate that cost. Are you willing, He asks the disciples, to accept the cost of placing God first in your life?

This wasn't new to believing Jews since it was proclaimed in the Shema' - the very foundation of Jewish faith, introduced by Moses with the words:
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength" [Dt 6:4].
The problem is, you and I and that crowd of Galileans are so wrapped up in the realities of this world, so close to them, it's easy for us sinners to put these created realities first, to put them ahead of God. No! the Shema' tells us: God, the Creator of all that is good, must be first.

And now, speaking to the crowds, Jesus applied this revealed truth to Himself - that to be God's disciple is to be His disciple. Once more He reveals His divinity, providing more ammunition to the Pharisees. But Jesus is focused on the people.
The Cost of Discipleship
Are you willing, He asks them and us, to place your love for me above the love you have for those in the world who are most precious to you?

Do you understand that loving God must be a sacrificial love, that other loves in your life must never come first?

To follow Jesus isn't simply to tag along behind Him. To follow Him is to become a living image of Jesus...but even more than that, it means being wherever Jesus is, serving Him by doing whatever Jesus happens to be doing. It means being like Mary, whose birthday we celebrate today, being the perfect disciple, always looking to Jesus.

To do what Jesus does: to bring comfort and healing to the sick, to feed the hungry, to forgive those who have hurt you, to see God's presence in every person you encounter.

To love beyond your family and friends, beyond those you're expected to love. To love less your own life and love more the lives of others.

It's not about me bringing Jesus into my life, but the exact opposite: it's about letting Jesus rule me. St. Paul said it best: 

"I live no longer I, but Christ who lives in me" [Gal 2:20].
Jesus calls us to understand what He is asking of us before we commit our lives to Him. He wants disciples who know and accept the cost, disciples who follow full-heartedly. The half-hearted, the lukewarm, need not apply.

Embrace the Gospel, He calls to us, embrace it without compromise; and this can be frightening. It demands we set aside our own plans, that we abandon ourselves in trust to the will of God.

Yes, it can be frightening, and overcome by fear or by false pride many turn away from God. Others, motivated by a false humility, do the same, unable to accept the unconditional love of God. 

Once again Simon Peter provides an example. On the day He first perceived, if only vaguely, the Lord's divinity, he fell down in that boat, fell before Jesus and said:

"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" [Lk 5:8].
Depart from me, Lord
To love God in His perfection is also to recognize our own imperfections, our own sinfulness. Peter had gone this far, but hadn't yet tasted God's mercy. Soon enough, though, Peter witnessed God's forgiveness, and personally experienced the Divine Mercy Jesus showers on the repentant. 

Discipleship is not easy; indeed, it's so difficult we can't do it alone. Jesus knows this and promises to walk the road with us, just as He walked with the twelve along the hard roads of Galilee on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to the Cross and our salvation.

He wants to walk by our side, brothers and sisters, to be your strength and my strength.

He wants to make the impossible possible.

Homily: Saturday, 22nd Week in Ordinary Time

I have embedded a video of my homily for Saturday of the 22nd week of Ordinary Time. The full text of the homily follows.


Readings: Col 1:21-23 • Psalm 54 • Luke 6:1-5

What a wonderful Gospel passage, a beautiful example of the continuity between Old and New Testaments, where the New fulfills the Old. 

Luke tells us that Jesus and the disciples were walking through a wheat field on the Sabbath; and as they walked the disciples picked the heads of grain and ate them.
Unlawful on the Sabbath?
There are actually several places in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy that apply here. In fact the Law allows gleaning, or picking grain from another's field [Dt 23:25], but only with your hand. In other words, pick just enough to satisfy your hunger. You can't roll through someone else's field with a combine. And then there are the Ten Commandments, requiring the observation of the Sabbath day by doing no work [Ex 20:10; Dt 5:12-15].

The Pharisees, of course, were shadowing Jesus, intent on finding fault. And so they challenged Him, asking why His disciples were violating the Law. As usual, they interpreted the Law narrowly, but Jesus, as always, turned the tables on them. He began by criticizing their ignorance of Scripture:
"Have you not read what David did...?" [Lk 6:3]
Here He referred to an event described in the 1st Book of Samuel. David and his companions were fleeing from King Saul. Hungry, David approached the priests of the sanctuary at Nob and requested bread. But the only bread available was the Bread of the Presence, which, by Law, was reserved for priests alone [Lev 24:9]. But Ahimelech, the high priest, gave the bread to David. Later, in his anger, Saul killed all the priests at Nob, not because he thought they had violated the Law, but because they had helped David.
Bread of the Presence
Jesus uses this event to explain the true meaning of the Sabbath, that the letter of the Law is not more important than helping those in real need. The letter of the Law might be violated, but not the good the Law intends. In Mark's Gospel Jesus adds the words:
"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" [Mk 2:27].
God instituted the Sabbath, Jesus reminds the Pharisees, not for its own sake, but for our benefit. And then He said something remarkable:
"The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" [Lk 6:5].
Luke doesn't reveal the Pharisees' reaction to these words, but they must have been horrified. For them this was blasphemy. Using the Messianic title "Son of Man" was bad enough, but He also claimed the divine title, "Lord of the Sabbath."

Here Jesus proclaimed His divinity. It is He who gave the Law to Israel, and the Lord of the Sabbath has authority over the Law.

It's interesting that the Church, in today's Gospel proclamation or Alleluia verse, includes words Jesus spoke to His disciples at the Last Supper:
"I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me" [Jn 14:6].
These words, too, also proclaim Jesus' divinity and in a very real sense expand on what He said to the Pharisees.

The Way, the Truth, the Life...It's all encompassing, isn't it? It's a perfect description of His complete fulfillment of the Covenants with Israel, the Good News wrapped up in three one-syllable words.

What is the way? It's nothing other than our Christian faith and the struggle to put that faith into practice by loving God and our neighbor. In our weakness we can't do it alone, and so we follow Jesus on His journey, which becomes our journey through life's struggles, knowing He walks with us.

The truth? Why, it's the Good News - the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Good News of God's mercy and forgiveness, the Good News of Salvation!  It's the truth of Jesus' promise, borne out and proven by His resurrection.

And the life? The life is eternal life, the fruit of Jesus' promise. It's the understanding that we're here for a purpose: to do God's will so that we may spend an eternal life of happiness with Him. It's the knowledge that salvation is a gift, that we can't earn it simply by following the Law.

As St. Paul reminds us in today's first reading, we too hope to stand before God "holy, pure and blameless."

Perhaps, we should begin by considering how we celebrate the Sabbath, the day on which we proclaim Jesus' glorious Resurrection.

Other than attending a vigil or Sunday Mass, what do we do to keep the day holy?

Is it just another day to spend on the golf course, or in front of the TV?

Or do we, like the disciples, take some time to walk with Jesus on the day He has declared holy?

Friday, September 6, 2019

Homily: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Readings: Sir 3:17-18,20,28-29; Ps 68; Heb 12:18-19,22-24; Lk 14:1,7-14

Boy, it's hard to be humble, isn't it? Especially when you're so smart, so competent, so much better than others. Yes, indeed, today self-esteem and self-worth demand self-promotion so others will also recognize our value. And humility? Well it's okay to sound humble on occasion, but to actually be humble, no, that's no way to get ahead.

At least that's what to world wants us to believe; and it's done a pretty effective job convincing us. So much so that humility has become today's lost virtue, and is viewed almost as a vice.

But this is really nothing new. How did our first reading from Sirach begin?

"My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God" [Sir 3:17-18].

The very fact that these words were written tells us that excessive pride has always been a problem.

In our second reading the author of the Letter to the Hebrews takes his Jewish readers back to the Israelites experience at Mt. Sinai [Ex 18-19]. It was here that God in a very real sense forced humility on them -- the blazing fire, the trumpet blasts, the terrifying darkness and gloom and smoke, the earthquakes, and then God's Word thundering His Law to them.
The Presence of God at Sinai
Yes, God's Presence was so awesome, so frightening that the people begged not to have to witness it again. And so they told Moses, "You go up there. You talk with Him. We're too afraid." Perhaps we too need to be reminded of God's greatness and our poverty, to be humbled by the love He has for us all. 

In today's Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus delivered this same message, but it a far quieter way. He didn't thunder God's Word. No, He simply related two brief parables. 

The passage begins with a sentence that tells us all we need to know about those present.
"On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing Him carefully" [Lk 14:1].
Who, what, when and's all in that first sentence isn't it?

Jesus had been invited to dine at the home of a important Pharisee, who was no doubt surrounded by all his buddies. We all know what the Pharisees thought of Jesus, so they invited Him on the Sabbath, not to honor Him but to see if He followed the Law. Yes, Luke tells us, they "were observing Him carefully" not as a disciple would observe, hoping to learn, but as an enemy observes, hoping to find fault, to entrap.
Jesus Dining with the Pharisees
What they didn't realize was that Jesus was watching them even more closely. And the one thing He didn't see was humility. Self-absorbed, lacking any generosity, they vied for places of honor at the table. Jesus, then, shared the first of two brief parables with them, one best summed up by its final teaching:
"For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" [Lk 14:11].
Quite likely these words were lost on those seated at the table with Jesus. How often do we get caught up in our own version of Pharisaism, complaining about perceived slights and demanding better treatment?

A friend of mine is a retired state trooper who once pulled over a U.S. Senator for speeding. The senator's first words? "Don't you know who I am?"

His response? "Yes, Senator, you're a speeder who was going 85 in a 55 zone. License and registration, please."

My friend told me, "I gave him a ticket, but of course it was fixed by someone far above me on the food chain. And I'm pretty sure that same someone also made note of my indiscretion."

"Don't you know who I am?" I expect Jesus heard those same words on occasion.

Now the point of Jesus' teaching is not about speeding tickets or one's place at the table, Parables, after all, always address something deeper than the events they describe. 

This parable is all about that lost virtue, humility. And humility is nothing other than reality. We can get so caught up in our perceived worth as defined by the world, how we view ourselves compared to others, that we neglect the most important relationship: our relationship with God. And through that neglect we forget we are completely dependent creatures, that without God's creative love, without His grace, unmerited and freely offered, salvation would be impossible. In fact, we would not even exist.

This was the relationship that the Israelites recognized at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the reality that so frightened them. It's the stark reality of a relationship, of Who God is and who we are. And without that understanding, the very foundation of humility, no other virtue is attainable.

This fact comes into play with Jesus' second parable, a teaching He aims directly at His host, that first century V.I.P., or very important Pharisee. But it, too, is a parable and so it's not just about dinner invitations. Once again, it addresses our relationships with each other and with God.

Because we are all completely dependent on God's grace, in His eyes, none of us is greater than another. Jesus emphasizes this when He tells His host:

"...invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you" [Lk 14:14].

In God's Kingdom, as members of His family, we all have equal dignity. Our reality is measured not by position or rank or occupation but by how we love and serve God through our relationships with all others. How others view us is far less important than the care and compassion manifested by how we view them.

Our question, therefore, becomes: How can you and I alter the way we live to express this truth in both word and action? Jesus, then, isn't telling us to reject the gifts God has given us; He's telling us to use them to help others, those with fewer or different gifts. 

And yet, as we examine ourselves, so often we fall prey to a subtle form of pride. "Lord, I think I'm actually pretty good. I'm here at Mass every week, I drop an envelope in the basket. I'm nice to others and try not to cause any harm. Yep, I think I'm doin' okay."

Do you hear the pride in these words? I consider myself, and how often similar thoughts have entered into my prayer. It's the person of one who thinks that because of his perceived goodness, he deserves salvation, which of course he doesn't. None of us does. Far better to kneel humbly before God, accepting the reality of His perfection, the reality of our sinfulness, and simply ask: "Help me, Lord."

In the Collect for today's Mass, Father asked God, the "giver of every good gift," to "nurture in us what is good." This, too, is a prayer of humility in which we acknowledge that everything we have is a gift from God, and that we are called to be sharers of these gifts.

Jesus invites us join those God has specially chosen, the poor, the ill, the forgotten, the dying. He calls us not just to write a check, but to walk alongside those whom God loves with special tenderness, and to share with them table and friendship.

This, brothers and sisters, is what we are called to do on our journey to salvation.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Homily: Saturday, 21st Week in Ordianry Time, Year C

Today we had no morning Mass. Because of the impending Hurricane Dorian, the presiding priest, who lives near Orlando, was unable to buy gas for his car. All the local gas stations were out of fuel. 
As the assigned deacon I conducted a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion. I have embedded a video, followed by the text of the homily.

Readings: 1 Thes 4:9-11; • Ps 98 • Mt 25:14-30


I usually preach on the Gospel, but today the Spirit drew me to the words of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, words we might just gloss over if we don't take the time to think about them. They're right at the end of our first reading when Paul instructs us:
"...aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you" [1 Thes 4:11].
I've probably read these words dozens of times, but rarely thought much about them. Isn't it interesting how that often happens with Sacred Scripture? So often the words just slide by, almost unnoticed, but then occasionally something happens. It's as if the Holy Spirit knows just when we'll be receptive to His Word and opens our minds and hearts to listen and accept.

What was Paul's first suggestion?

"...aspire to live a tranquil life..." or as some translations have it, "to live quietly."

Now, I can't speak for any of you, only for myself, but believe me, even in my so-called retirement, my life is far from tranquil. It just seems to "fill up" with all kinds of tasks, and commitments, and requests, and promises, and demands...all those things to which I rarely say, "No." As another deacon once said to me, "Pray? I don't have time to pray. I'm too busy with all these ministries."

Of course, we love the praise, don't we? 

"Oh, he's so busy, but still always willing to help. You can always count on him, so good."

Oh, yes, we love the praise, even when it comes from ourselves. And that should tell us something about our motives. 

We're all so busy, aren't we? Busy with work, with play, with games and hobbies, with good things, with bad things, and with silly things. And yet, as Paul reminds us, we need tranquility; we need peace in our lives. How often did Jesus bless His disciples by saying, "Peace be with you?"

Stopping to Pray the Angelus...Peace
Without it, all that busyness becomes meaningless.

Without it we have no prayer life; no time to think about and deepen our relationship with God; no time to understand exactly what God wants of us.

Without it we have no time for rejoicing, no time for thanksgiving, no time for learning to love God and each other.

Maybe at some point we need someone to tell us: "Stop. Don't just do something, stand there!" 

Or more profoundly, in the words of the psalmist: "Be still, and know that I am God" [Ps 46:10].

St. Paul continues and tells us "to mind your own affairs."

We are busybodies, aren't we? -- wanting to know everything about everyone -- lies, gossip, even the truth -- we don't care; we just want to know it all. And when we hear about the problems and challenges faced by others, it makes us feel so much better about our own less than perfect lives.
"You won't believe what I just heard..."
I've always loved that wonderful line from Jane Austen's  Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Bennet says to his daughter, Lizzie:
"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?"
Yes, indeed, we allow ourselves to be guided by our curiosity instead of our faith, instead of loving our neighbor, praying for him, helping her deal with the adversity and challenges of life. 

I suppose my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Francis Jane, was right when I tried to overhear what she was saying as she reprimanded another student: "Dana McCarthy, mind your own business."

Finally, Paul tells us "to work with your own hands."

I find it interesting that, when describing God's work, Sacred Scripture often depicts God working as a manual laborer would work. Listen again to the voice of the psalmist: 
"When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place" [Ps 8:4].
Yes, it's a metaphor, but one we encounter throughout all of Scripture, even in today's responsorial psalm:
"Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done wondrous deeds; His right hand has won victory for him, his holy arm" [Ps 98:1].
As for St. Paul, although he was a scholar, a student of the renowned Gamaliel, Luke also described him as a "tentmaker" [Acts 18:3], a trade Paul presumably learned to earn a living. In fact, the apostles, with the exception of Mathew, the tax-collector, were pretty much all blue-collar guys. And let's not forget that Jesus worked many years as a carpenter before starting His public ministry. 
Jesus of Nazareth, Carpenter and Son of God
Is Paul suggesting, then, that all white-collar Christians should quit their jobs and learn a trade? No, I don't think so. I think he's simply telling us that to work with one's hands is a very human and very honest activity, something that echoes our creation in God's image and likeness. 
"Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul" [Gn 2:7].
Creation of Man
Working with one's hands is often creative, usually productive, and offers opportunities to think about the important things, the permanent things.

In my former consulting business I found that the most successful senior executives had some hands-on, creative outlet such as cabinet making, painting, or some other similar activity. There seems to be a human need to accomplish things using the skills of our hands -- part reward, part accomplishment, part peace. 

And so today Paul gives us some sound advice, advice we should follow on our journey to holiness. Then, like the good servant, we too might hear those words:
"Well done, my good and faithful servant...Come share your master's joy" [Mt 25:23].