26th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C September 29, 2013

If someone was a diehard Red Sox fan and, say, in the year 2004 they were completely out of commission. The person was in a horrible accident say, and ended up in a coma for the better part of 2004. And after miraculously regaining their health through the many prayers and novenas offered for them, pleading to God and the many saints for a re-awakening of their loved one, and the recovering person was told that the Boston Red Sox won the World Series while they remained in a coma, do you think that person would believe you? Or, would they think you were trying to play a cruel game with their emotions, or just trying to make them feel better quicker?

If a person was on Mars or Venus for the entire year of 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series…

Well, you get the point. The Boston Red Sox winning the World Series for the first time in what seemed like a thousand years –although it was only 86 – would be a difficult truth for anyone to accept who missed out on the locally historic baseball events of that year for obvious reasons. Be it for the reason of a coma or a yearlong trip to the Red Planet. Some things reach the “next to impossible” stage of belief. The Red Sox winning the World Series prior to 2004 is one of them. And someone being raised from the dead is another. Not from a coma. But from death. And three days’ worth no less!

The problem with the rich man in the parable, which Jesus directs directly at the well-to-do Pharisees, is that the rich man was blind. He wasn’t Bartimeus blind, like having no eyesight since birth. He was spiritually blind, meaning he could simply walk past a poor beggar, which many people do because they are afraid they might catch some disease from his filthy clothes, or he might pull a knife on them, and after walking past the poor beggar like he was a doormat, he would continue doing what he was doing without the possibility of a poor man begging at his front door ever being noticed. His blindness is not intentional, per se, toward Lazarus the poor man. The rich man doesn’t look at Lazarus and say, “Hey you, get off my front doorstep before I pick you up and remove you myself!” All the while thinking in the back of his mind, “I wouldn’t touch this guy with a ten-foot pole! Or a telephone pole!”

And others like to make excuses for people like the rich man. “Oh, he’s spiritually ignorant,” they say. “He really doesn’t know what he’s doing when he avoids Lazarus at his front door. He really thinks Lazarus is just a bad looking doormat that can be stepped on because Lazarus is hiding his head underneath all the filthy clothes he’s wearing in order to stay warm. So the rich man can’t even see a person at his door!” P-Lease!

You know where spiritual ignorance will get someone? To a place of torment. If a person can see all the numbers in their bank account, and the golden chair in which they sit, then they are very capable of seeing a poor man sitting at their front door. Not being capable of such vision is harder to believe than the Red Sox winning the World Series. Or, someone being raised from the dead after a few days in a tomb.

No excuses. Avoidance is a choice by a person for the purpose of looking the other way.

Encounter is a choice to do the work of God, and seeing the face of God in the despised.

As Christians who have made the wise choice of practicing our faith on a weekly basis, thus a daily basis, we have made the choice, and continue to make the choice, of encounter. Encounter is possessing within our hearts and souls a 20/20 spiritual vision of our surroundings and our world.

We pray for peace, doing all in our power to avoid war and all its ugly, violent effects on human bodies and psyches. We defend life, especially life that is most vulnerable, weak, and without a voice. We speak for those who cannot say, “Let me live.” We perform works of charity and works of mercy, not to make ourselves feel good – although St. Paul writes that God loves a cheerful giver – but because it’s the loving thing to do. And we pray. We pray for those who are sick, for those who are dealing with depression or some other disease. We pray for those searching for labor in order to fulfill that good dignity within us. We pray for any situation where we want God to interfere, intercede, and bring about a better result. St. Monica prayed for 30 years for the conversion of her son St Augustine. 30 years! How many of us would have given up on encounter over that time and taken on avoidance, or even anger?

As practicing Catholics, we are people of encounter. This is how we best represent our Lord. Spiritual ignorance is for those who are spiritually ignorant. It’s for those who live according to the standards of the world, and are too proud to ever need their faith. Encounter takes humility, and the rich man had none of that virtue….Until he arrived at his eternal destination. But by that time it was too late. And my dear friends, there is such a thing in our faith, despite some heretical hearsay to the contrary, as being too late.

We avoid being too late by continuing to be people of encounter. We have eyes to see and ears to hear the cry of the poor. We are people of encounter. Which makes all good things believable. Even the Red Sox winning the World Series. And one Jewish man from Nazareth being raised from the dead, so that we also may be carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham.

25th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C September 22, 2013

So, the question for this Sunday is, “How much do we owe our Master?”

No need to be the dishonest steward asking this question in order to cover all his bases so that he can escape the punishment of his Master. But rather, a simple disciple who reflects upon how much of our lives we owe in offering to our Lord.

“How much do we owe our Master?”

One of the many good things about owing Jesus is that there’s no need for a credit card to repay what we owe. We already have all the wealth we need in order to repay. A credit card will only result in many of us being drawn deeper into debt. With Jesus, there’s no need to “buy things” on credit. We don’t buy our way to heaven with a credit card. We perform works of charity and mercy because such works reflect the true presence of Christ in our lives through our faith in him. Works of mercy and charity is faith in Jesus manifested. No need for a credit card. That’s not what Jesus wants from us. He wants us to know that we are presently free of all debt, especially the spiritual debt of sin. He wants us to carry within our hearts and souls the Christian truth that our debt has already been paid by his death on a Cross for our eternal salvation. There is no need for a credit card to repay what we owe. But there is the need to repay.

However, our Lord’s repayment is not a matter of going out there, like the steward in the parable, and try to find out what others owe the Master. The steward starts using other people with the intention of trying save his own skin. We already know what others owe the Lord. They owe the same amount of devotion, gratitude, and faith that we owe. They owe the same amount of prayer for others and sincere worship of God that we do. There’s no need to try to compute the debts of those we know and those we meet on the journey. We all owe Jesus the same.

For example, I don’t need to waste my energy trying to figure out what another priest owes the Lord. He owes the same amount I do. And I owe the same amount he does. Be true to the faith; love your people; be a source of peace and not division, discord, or contention; don’t abuse your vacation time (we get 30 days a year. It’s in Canon 533, section 2: “Unless there is a grave reason to the contrary, a pastor is permitted to be absent from the parish each year for vacation for at most one continuous or interrupted month). “So don’t take 60 days because you, Father, think you deserve it!”

Repayment to Jesus the rich man, the One who is rich in mercy and charity, is the type of repayment that doesn’t search for ways to fulfill our obligation to the Lord out of fear. There’s no “hurry up and close the deal because your time of explaining your actions is short!” We already know our time is short! Repaying the Lord out of fear of reprisal is what Jesus calls dishonest wealth. It might get the job done, as we see the steward being commended by the master for unsquandering the property he squandered. The unsquandering was a process of nervousness and anxiety because of the stark reality he was going to lose his position and cushy job.

Repayment to Jesus for his dying for us so that we may have life, and life to the fullest, is grounded in being children of light. Being sons and daughters of light is also to be wise and prudent, but for very different reasons than the steward trying to cover his dirty tracks. The dirt will only cover so much manure. Being wise and prudent as children of light requires we reject and transform many ways of how our world relates, and represent honesty and clarity. For where the seeds of confusion are sown, or the seeds of wheeling and dealing in order to gain the upper hand, there is either no light or very little light. There is much darkness. But where the seeds of honesty are sown in wise and prudent ways, there is righteousness.

It all comes down to trust. Are we persons who can be trusted with the goods of our Christian faith? Or, is our goal to try our best to cover our tracks, at whatever cost, when the master discovers we’ve had ulterior motives that do not serve him?

What Jesus says, of course, is so true. If we can’t be trusted with small matters, then the same will hold true for the larger matters of life. If we can be trusted with small matters, such as daily prayer, then we can be trusted with great matters, such as evangelizing.

When Jesus spoke those words regarding trust, I have a strong sense he was speaking about his own present, public ministry and his not so distant future, which affects all of us. The difference, though, is that the smaller matters for Jesus would be considered larger matters for us. And the larger matters for Jesus are matters that belong solely to God. Only God could accomplish them.

There’s the behind the scenes message in this Gospel that our Lord is saying; “Trust what you hear from me. Trust the stories and parables and divine lessons of Christian living that flow from them. Trust the miracles that you witness and are part of.” Trust that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets. Trust in his forgiving our sins. And incredibly, these are the “smaller” matters of our Lord. Matters that lead to the great ones.

If we trust our Lord in the actions and words of his public ministry, then we will trust him in his Cross and resurrection, the great matters. If we fail to trust the words and actions of Jesus in his public ministry, then we will also fail to fully trust his promise of redemption and salvation.

This is why all of us owe our Lord the same amount of devotion and faith. I don’t owe more than you, and you don’t owe more than me. We all owe Jesus our lives. Trusting in the story of Jesus from conception to Ascension reveals that all is accomplished for our benefit.

We all owe to the Lord our very existence. We owe to the Lord our future resurrection. We owe him clear faith and honest devotion. It’s what makes us children of light, without taking 60 days of vacation.

24th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C September 15, 2013

In a world of all sorts of spiritual existence, he was one of the walking dead. The son of dissipation, as he is known, was upright when moving his legs away from home, along with making the return trip to the familiar address of his father’s house. But he was part of the group known as the walking dead.

“This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found,” says the father in one of the more famous parable’s that Jesus tells. The son really wasn’t dead. He was still breathing and walking and doing lots of talking; “Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me,” and “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.” If he’s dying from hunger, if he’s in the process of dying, then he’s really not dead, yet. But the father says, “This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again.”

Does the word “dead” have more than one meaning? It must. Because if the son is dead, if he’s been nailed to the cross, then he wouldn’t be speaking the words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.” Or your daughter. I no longer deserve to be counted among the living.

Now, unless this guy’s name is Lazarus, and he’s a good friend of Jesus along with his sisters Martha and Mary, then there’s no logical way this guy can be called dead, and still speak in clear sentences. When’s the last time you went to a wake and the person in the casket started speaking sentences? If you see that happen, my advice is to get the heck out of there!

Dead people don’t talk…in the world of time and space. They do speak much, but it’s in eternity, hopefully in heaven. Their voice is now spiritual, meaning their voice has climbed the ladder that goes above and beyond our five senses, yet can be known in a spiritual way. But dead people don’t speak in the body.

But he’s called dead in the parable, yet he still speaks. He’s part of the walking and talking dead. He sold his soul to the devil. And when we sell our souls to the devil, meaning, when we openly, and in some cases, aggressively and forcefully side with the ways of evil, we become part of the group unaffectionately known as the walking dead. They can still speak. In fact, sometimes you can’t shut them up. They can still speak sentences, even long sentences, that make them sound like they are very much alive. But they are really dead. At least for the time being, until they hopefully wake up from death and reverse the course of their lives.

A thousand ways we can go with the image of the walking dead. But just a couple; one each from the first and second readings.

In the first reading from Exodus, we heard proclaimed the other familiar story that is a first cousin with the parable of the Prodigal Son; the story of the molten, golden calf. Do you start to sense a consistent spiritual way of being dead with these two stories? The people of Israel, like the Prodigal Son, become very impatient. The son wants his inheritance before the father dies, meaning he really wants his father dead. And the people of Israel have put Moses in the grave. They think he’s dead on the mountain because he hasn’t come back down for many days now. However, Moses is very much alive before God, but the Israelites are dead. They collect lots of metal, form it and shape it, and begin to bow down before it. They are walking dead. Aaron did a poor job at keeping them alive. So a question for ourselves that comes from this scene of those who are living and breathing, and walking and talking and building a false god is, “Are we evangelizing?”

In this scene of the Israelites going far away and completely astray from the God who loves them and extends mercy to them, there’s no one there to give them a better way; to try to talk them out of making a false god; to present the truth that the one true God is still with them; to present the error of their ways out of love and concern. This is where political correctness today does much damage. Because it prevents us from evangelizing our faith. And it causes people to disappear from situations where they should be present. Aaron helped the Israelites to become the walking dead. He was complicit in his silence. Are we doing the same today in our individual lives? Sometimes silence is golden. With evangelizing, it is not.

In the 2nd reading this Sunday, Paul writes to his dear friend Timothy. In reference to the walking dead, what we see written in this epistle is Paul’s humility and honesty, along with an unforgettable teaching. Paul recognizes that his previous life of persecuting Christians was a matter of acting out of ignorance in his unbelief. Of course we don’t persecute others in our lives, but has any unbelief in Jesus held us back from being the saints we are meant to be? Unbelief in God’s ways makes us part of the walking dead.

And Paul writes this unforgettable statement that gives us direction and, if needed, a way to turn back home like the Prodigal Son; “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Christ Jesus is a Savior, not a condemner. We condemn ourselves when we walk dead. Jesus gives us the grace and needed attention to turn away from death, and move and live and breathe in him.

Take some time to reflect a bit. Allow Jesus to bring us home to the Father, where the celebration is great, and the embrace is eternal.

23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C September 8, 2013

One of my goals by the end of my life is to die from this world without any possessions. I’m not certain at this point how realistic that spiritual and material goal happens to be. As the years go on time will tell, along with my choices, as to whether such a goal can be attained, or if it’s just some pie in the sky spiritual and material attempt at trying to please the Lord.

I suppose if I incorporated such a request into my daily prayers, and prayed consistently, in earnest, and with all sincerity that penniless is how I wish to leave this world, then I’m quite certain that God would gladly oblige. Any hesitation or fear of that reality –whatever level happens to be presently present – is all on my part. I have no doubt the Holy Spirit would gladly and greatly assist my request of wanting to leave this world at the moment of death with no possessions in hand or in the bank.

I think of my own mother in this regard, who, five years ago this day her funeral Mass was celebrated, left this world of time for eternity with no possessions left behind. And I still can’t help but think, “What a perfect spiritual way to go home to the Lord!”

The problem is – and I’m sure I speak for most everyone here – is that on my recent vacation I purchased more books and a few collectibles to add to my somewhat already mammoth Civil War collection. That doesn’t sound like someone who is presently praying for the renunciation of all possessions so that I may leave this world one day with empty pockets and empty accounts. The conundrum and the truth is that God grants us countless blessings along the path to eternity. Blessings that in most cases take on the form of material goods and permanent possessions such as a home, a boat, a motorcycle, a collection of some sort, or the money to purchase an item that increases our present happiness and satisfaction.

But here’s the hard teaching from the words of Christ in the Gospel this week; if we start a project, if we begin to construct a tower, is we wish to build a structure, will we have enough resources to finish the job? The tower, the building, the ever-growing structure is our faith in Jesus Christ. This Gospel is all about our level of commitment and closeness to Jesus. Every one of us is in the process of building our tower. That singular structure with your name on it. This is why we come here to listen to the holy word of God, to receive the Body of Christ, and to praise and worship God on earth as a community of believers, and do so in the closest “format” that we will know in this life; the sacred liturgy. The sacred liturgy is earth’s copy of heaven. And we’re all in different places as to the building up and the completion of our tower of faith. The goal for all of us should be to keep building. Don’t throw down the tools and walk away from the faith. If we did, then what we started will not be finished, unless in humility we pick up the tools left behind and re-start constructing the tower that leads to God.

There are two possibilities that can make the building of our tower a hard teaching based on the words of Jesus today. First, outside influence. We’re all affected by it to one degree or another. I could go in a hundred different directions with how outside influence affects the living out and building of our faith. I could write  a 400 page book on the topic. Our world and our culture affect us. But I touch on just one thing; how Jesus addresses it in this Sunday’s Gospel. He says if we start constructing a tower, the tower that leads to God, and we don’t have enough “material” to finish the job, then the onlookers will say that he/she began constructing and didn’t have enough resources to finish. Have you ever seen a half-built structure sit there for months and years on end? It’s a sad sight.

In other words, the onlookers will not only laugh at us because of our inability to calculate what we need in order to remain a true disciple, but they will also remind us that we failed spiritually. You see, where there is a failure to love, to forgive, to extend mercy, to be kind and thoughtful and generous, to respect the dignity of all human life, to seek peace and not war, there is no possible way to build a tower of faith in Christ. However, where such tools are present, then we cannot be rightly accused of not finishing the job.

And second, what makes this a hard teaching is to have in our lives a definitive spirituality of renunciation. A spirituality of renunciation is to not aggressively go after some possessions we do not need to possess. There were a few historical items I saw for sale on my vacation. And unless one of you would like to give me $80,000, then I can’t purchase that stuff. Don’t worry; I know you wouldn’t offer and I would never accept. Could they be called blessings? Absolutely! Do I need them? Absolutely not! And the same goes for possessions on a much smaller scale.

A spirituality of renunciation is a teaching of Jesus that says simplicity opens the door to Christ in our lives. Enjoying God’s blessings together with renouncing what is not necessary for salvation.

If the goal is heaven, then renouncing is to be part of our journey. Some may laugh along the way, but not when the tower is finished.