12th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C June 23, 2013

I’m sure we all have opinions on who others think they are. How can we not? It’s the living out of our curious nature, along with our ever-dangerous judgmental nature. Judgmental, meaning the sinful and intentionally wrongful criticism of others.

It goes hand in hand with gossip, which can potentially be a grave sin. There’s a difference between saying that such and such a player from the Red Sox stinks, and saying about someone, “Did you hear what happened to Mary? I heard she fell down the stairs at her home because she was drunk, not because she accidentally fell!” Little did that person know that Mary has vertigo, and as a result of her disease, there are times when she will easily lose her balance.

We all have a few opinions on who others think they are, and on who we think others are. Some of it may be good, and some of what we say and think may be shamefully wrong. And even if it isn’t shamefully wrong, it may still be an unnecessary, put-down conversation.

But that’s not what Jesus is trying to draw out of his disciples. Which includes us, by the way. When Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” he certainly is curious about the scuttlebutt of those who have listened to his words and witnessed his actions. God hears his people. He’s asking about you, the lay persons in the Church. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Jesus is interested in the pulse of the good people of Israel. What are they saying, and how accurate are their statements?

This is important to us today for a couple reasons. First, to what degree do Christians understand and accept the truth and spiritual difficulty of Jesus’ eternal message of love and hope? A message that finds a cross right at the center of it. Some folks prefer anger at God, which may be understandable at times when the expected and unexpected difficulties of the world are placed on our shoulders. But as long as we live and breathe in this world, the Cross is part of the journey. Just as it was for our Lord.

And secondly, what the crowd is saying about Jesus; is he represented fairly and accurately, or is he being misrepresented by some of our words, actions, and inactions? Jesus knows who he is. How well do know the Christ of God, this name that Peter uses? Unquestionably today, there is plenty of misrepresentation with the name of Jesus. Whenever his name is used as a curse, God is misrepresented harshly. Whenever a Christian turns to hatred and/or violence to settle a score, there is misrepresentation by someone in the crowd. Where there is an utter disregard for the poor – “leave me alone, I’m concerned only about me, me, and me again” – is a misrepresentation of one’s faith in the Son of God.

Conversely, where there is a proper use of the name of Jesus; where there is a search for peaceful resolution; where there exists a generosity toward our poor brothers and sisters, Jesus is represented with pinpoint accuracy.

And then Jesus moves the questions to his first priests; “But who do you say that I am?” It’s a question revealing how every priest will be held accountable regarding how accurate we speak about our Lord. Or how well we act in the person of Christ. Do we as priests say, “The Christ of God. That’s who you are!” Or do we say at times, “You are the Christ, the Son of God, let me form you and shape you in my image and likeness rather than you form me and shape in your image and likeness?”

This is why as priests we are to be obedient to the teachings of the faith. It is through such obedience that Jesus is represented with theological precision.

What we can take from this Gospel are a couple certainties regarding our personal faith in Christ. First, Jesus has a loving, genuine concern for what all of us say about him. His concern and interest is directed not only at the priest or deacon who preaches the truths of the faith each week, and how accurately we present the message of salvation. His interest is also directed at the lay faithful, and how you, my brothers and sisters, have a solemn responsibility of not only bringing Christ to others, but doing so accurately. And representing Jesus well.

And secondly, we take from our readings the certainty that we are to carry a Cross if the reflection of Christ is to be at the heart of our faith and lives. This does not mean we seek out or enjoy suffering . Christians are not crazy people. Just crazy in love with God. Rather, carrying a Cross does man dying to self in the truest way that allows us to be born again in Christ. This may include suffering, loss, confusion at times, death itself. Every Christian has a Cross to carry in imitation of our Lord. But as with Jesus, it will be our symbol of victory over a sinful world. A personal, eternal victory.

Homily for June 16th

11th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C
June 16, 2013

2 Samuel 12:7-10,13 Galatians 2:16,19-21 Luke 7:36-8:3

The power of love is a force that, in the end, cannot be stopped. It’s like a train rolling down the track, leading to a station of renewal and new birth. The power of love changes hearts, worlds, personalities, and lives. There’s nothing better than witnessing a real, true conversion. All conversions are borne of love, where a person let’s go of their past and enters a world of grace.
In our readings for this Sunday we listen to the power of love moving mountains and changing a life. We also hear the power of love being criticized. Performing a profound act of love, or many acts of love over a period of time, or speaking a statement of love will at times be taken to task. It reminds me of the time I heard of a prominent person being critical of none other than Mother Teresa, calling the great future saint an incredibly selfish person. In this guy’s world, caring for the poor in the streets of Calcutta was an act of selfishness, and not an act of God’s love. That’s called twisted logic. We see the same in this Gospel. When one is critical and judgmental toward an act or words that find their origin in heaven, then it must be exposed for what it is; a wayward and senseless criticism. Jesus does just this.
A sinful woman is driven by the power of the Holy Spirit to display and perform this incredibly humble act of love before Jesus. The weeping and bathing and anointing of his feet is an act of worship and love, an act of penance that reveals an inward conversion taking place through outward actions. Outside of all that the Lord says and does for us, if there is a greater act of love displayed in the Gospels than the one done by this woman, I’m not so sure what it would be. The power of love is so strong in this sinful woman that she is filled with the presence of her Lord as she comes before him. This is conversion at its best. This is what it looks like openly.
Now, you would think that such an obvious act of love would easily be seen for what it is. Just like you would think that Mother Teresa’s actions over 5-plus decades would easily be seen by all for what they were. Yet, in this Gospel, Simon the Pharisee is rattled and taken aback by what he witnesses. An act of profound love is criticized by blindness, pride, and in this case religious fanaticism. There is no religious balance in Simon the Pharisee. Just like there’s no religious balance, or no religion at all, in many folks today.
Having religious balance, meaning to love God from God’s perspective and not ours, is a journey of faith that does one thing but not another. What religious balance does is to have no fear of openly displaying our love for God in simple gestures and, where necessary, vocabulary. This woman in the Gospel shows her religious balance and insight without speaking a word. She must have been the inspiration for the famous saying of St. Francis; “Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words.” Her act of love before Jesus was so obvious and true that no words were necessary.
And what possessing religious balance in our lives does not do is to privatize our faith. That’s a real issue in Catholic circles today, especially in this country, where it comes across like Catholics, in many respects, are timid and shy when it comes to expressing openly the many wonderful traditions and actions of our faith. That’s a loss of religious balance, along with giving in to political correctness.
I have a friend who prays the Rosary on the Rail Trail in West Boylston, and she carries her Rosary openly when doing so. Political correctness would say to her, “Put it away! Hide the beads somehow! Not everyone you cross paths with is Catholic! And if they are, they probably don’t go to Church anymore! Others are offended by your open display of prayers!” But religious balance says, “This is who I am. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not ashamed of my faith, my Lord, and my God, who, by the way, created this trail we happen to be walking on!”
The powerful actions of love and worship have no self-conscious element to them. What moves a person to perform such an act as we see in this Gospel , and act that reveals a deep genuine love for God, and not done for show, is the admission that we are in need of God’s mercy. As the sinful woman bathes, weeps, and anoints the feet of Jesus, in her heart and mind there is no one else in the world witnessing this scene. She could care less what Simon the Pharisee thinks of her humility. She could care less if he’s even present. In her actions, which we are challenged to copy, she makes visible the words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading; “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
This is a Gospel for all Catholics to sincerely reflect on how we live out and practice our faith. Do we choose to hide it because of the pressure and expectations of our secular society? Because of the expectations of Simon the Pharisee? Or, do we humble ourselves before the living God and come to him with a deep sense of repentance for our sins?
The power of love will move a person to have the fortitude, the religious balance, and the humility to express our worship for Christ. It blocks out all the pressures and distractions of the world, and is able to settle down before Jesus, allowing our Lord to accept us for who we are. When we present ourselves before Jesus with no pretentions, our faith is on solid ground.

Homely for June 9, 2013

Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C

June 9, 2013

 1Kings 17:17-24 Galatians 1:11-19 Luke 7:11-17

It’s the cold, hard reality. There’s a great deal of false bravado as a result of it. Some pray for it. It’s the “wake up call,” paradoxically. It’s the attention-getter for those left behind. It involves great heartache, pain, sorrow, and relief. It’s the shocker. It’s the one part of our lives that can put us into a daze, and potentially keep us there for long periods of time. It will challenge our Christian faith and beliefs like nothing else will. It can result in a deep-seated anger towards God. It has the potential to confuse us to the point of spiritually wandering. Wandering spiritually, meaning a sense of profound uncertainty of the meaning of life. It will cause us to seek answers that are not so easy to find. It will cause someone, or more than one someone, to become an atheist.
What is it that can do all this and so much more to the human psyche? St Paul rightly calls it our greatest enemy? He also says, “Where is your sting? Have you lost it?” And the answer, of course, is death. The death of a loved one always has the potential to turn our personal world upside down, and place us on an unexpected path we didn’t think we would ever be on. “That’s not going to happen to me. That’s going to happen to the other person.”
Mary Lincoln, the wife of Abraham Lincoln; as a mother and father, they lost a son – just like the Gospel – to disease at a young age in the midst of our nation’s one and only Civil War, thus far. It was an unexpected, very sad occurrence in their lives. Mary locked herself away for months in the White House, wearing a black dress for all those months. Her mourning cloths, as we know, were really never put away from the moment of the death of her son, William Wallace Lincoln, known as Willie, on February 20, 1862. There would be her husband in 1865, and another beloved son in 1868.
And the President? Well, he spoke the words “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home.” And then to his secretary John Nicolay he would say, “Well Nicolay, my boy is gone – he is actually gone!” And the President would burst into tears before entering his own office. Also, his way of dealing with his intense grief was to bury himself in the handling of a Civil War.
Death is rotten. Death is cold. Death stings. And death is….defeated.
I pray we never become spiritually immune to what really takes place in the first reading with Elijah and the widow, and in the Gospel with Jesus and the widow. In the way how many of us have become somewhat immune to the violence perpetrated in our world every day. It can fill every 30 page newspaper and every 30 minute newscast every day. From our own community of gangs to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, where people have died by the thousands. The face of evil is something we should never become immune to. So may we never become immune to, or treat in ordinary ways, the truth and power of this Gospel’s message.
What is that power and message? We hear of it displayed in a city in ancient Palestine called Nain, where Jesus returns a son to his mother. When I was in Israel a couple years ago, Nain was pointed out to us in the distance. There it was; a city forever known for death losing its sting. “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus couldn’t bypass such a gathering and commotion. He couldn’t turn his back on a mother’s sorrow. He couldn’t look the other way and say, “That funeral procession over there; that doesn’t concern me.” He approached the reality of the death of that mother’s son with full force. The force of love and the force of overturning the unnaturalness of death. For death is unnatural. We think it’s natural and normal because it’s going to happen to all of us. But “God didn’t make death, not does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (Wisdom 1:13). Death is the consequence of human disobedience. But God’s love does not lessen because of it.
So what really went on that day when Jesus and his disciples crossed paths with a funeral ceremony from antiquity? A ceremony that had no expectation of being any different from the countless other sorrowful ceremonies this town commenced with when a person died?
What really happened is that this man sent from God, this God-Man, gave them hope. As Jesus settled a son back into the arms of his mother, he also settled hope into the hearts of all who were present. And as St. Paul also says elsewhere, “Hope does not disappoint.” In the intense pain and sorrow of death, especially when quick, unexpected, or young, Jesus gives us hope. If we become immune to the hope that comes from this real story, then we’ve lost a high percentage of our faith. We could still view Jesus as someone great and influential. But that fails to capture who he really is. Who he really is is, “God has visited his people.” And he continues to visit his people in the sacramental life of the Church.
And what also happened that day in the city of Nain was what I call “holy interference.” Most of us don’t like it when others interfere in our business. I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve said, “Buzz off! Mind your own business!” But there was no buzzing off Jesus. The Gospel gives the impression that Jesus just walked up to the coffin without saying a word, until he arrived at the point of holy interference. God’s interference in our lives, if we choose to let him in, will always lead us to life. Even in death.
We still deal with the many difficult parts of death and dying in this life. But our Lord gives us hope with his holy interference. Which is why his grave is still empty after 2000 years.