9th Division Memorial Mass October 27, 2013

A warm and heartfelt welcome from our parish to all here today associated with the 9th Division and Fr. Connors, and to all veterans who have served in our nation’s military. Your service and many selfless sacrifices to protecting the freedoms we are blessed to live daily – freedoms today that are threatened both outside and within our own country – your service and commitment call forth our gratitude and love.

            I would think it’s not so easy being a veteran. Just like it’s not so easy being a priest. But we don’t sign up for easy assignments. Being a veteran means you have been through some difficult encounters that have been cause to see another person as an enemy. That certain type of person – be it according to nationality, or even religion – is viewed as someone, or some group, that needed to be stopped and defeated.

            And just looking at the 20th century as we continue to move further away from it, there were a number of groups of nations and nationalities who, in defense of protecting the freedoms we have, it was necessary they be stopped and defeated. The world is a better place because of it. If their ideology and aggressiveness were not met by a strong offense for freedom, which at times is the best defense, then our world today, as unbalanced as it is at times, would look very different. It would be sadly different.

            So, the sacrifice and duty of our soldiers – millions of them over the past 100 years alone, has resulted in our capacity to embrace and maintain certain forms of freedom.

            Freedom is not a word of nations and humanity. Freedom is a word of God. God created the human race in his image and likeness to be free. This is the fundamental part of our existence. Where freedom fails to exist, such failure rests with human beings. God doesn’t wake up on a Monday morning and say, “Gee, I think I’ll take away some of their freedom today!” Where freedom fails, it rests with us. And if that’s the case, then the protection of freedom – from religious liberty to the freedom to move about in safety – also rests with human beings. But we are to seek freedom’s protection for the reason that this is how God has created us.

            Whereas restricting freedom is a human act, defending true, right, just, and moral freedom is of God. Where any attempt at restricting freedom toward a group of law-abiding citizens, such as the ongoing attempt today at restricting religious liberty by our own government, whereas this is caused by persons in authority, any attempt and effort put forth toward defending God-given freedoms is to be centered in our Creator.

            In today’s Gospel there’s a battle going on between pride and humility, between the ego and no ego, between “Look at how great I am,” and “Don’t look at my sinfulness.” A battle between “I have no need for God in my life,” which would be the Pharisee, and “I depend upon God’s mercy to bring me home,” which is the tax collector.

            In this battle, if you will, the Pharisee represents all those governments, dictators, and any individual or group who goes about making life miserable for others. Their goal each day is to make others feel inferior because somehow they believe they are better than another nationality, another race, another gender, another religion. Such people actually believe, falsely of course, that they have created themselves, and that they have no one to answer to. They have no fear of God, like the judge in the parable we heard from Jesus in last week’s Gospel. To say the Pharisee is filled with pride would be an understatement. It’s more like, if you look up the word pride in the dictionary, guess whose face you’ll see?

            The Pharisee is the face of every person in power, and whose ever been in power, who believe they are their own god, that they can restrict the freedoms of others, and that the world revolves around them. This is why pride is the deadliest of sins. It has led and continues to lead to the death of millions of people. And that’s just the 20th and 21st centuries.

            On the other side of the battle is the tax collector, one of the most hated and dishonest occupations in the time of Jesus. But instead of counting his dollar bills and coins, he’s instead counting on God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is the good soldier in the eyes of God. A good soldier is one who is willing to lay down his life to save the freedoms of others. But a good soldier is also one who fears God. Meaning, he/she, like the rest of us, allow ourselves to seek out the love and mercy of our Creator. That we approach God in humility, like Fr. Connors, which is true strength.

            Jesus is the King of the world. He is the Savior of our souls. There is no one greater than him whom we call Lord. So why isn’t Jesus like the Pharisee going around saying, “Look how great I am! Look at all the miracles I can perform! Look at all the sins I can forgive!”

            Instead, the One who is the greatest humbles himself to the point of carrying a Cross, which was the most demeaning act of his time. His greatness is not realized in his miracles. Jesus’ greatness is seen forever seen in his humility. Humility raises us to greatness.

            The good soldier does their duty not for man alone, or even for themselves. The good soldier does their duty for God and man. Lose that fear of God, and we end up serving ourselves. Possess the fear of the Lord, and we serve our Creator. This was Fr. Connors, along with countless others.

            May God bless all our veterans and those presently serving. In such service to country, service is not for oneself, like the Pharisee. Rather, like the tax collector who sought God’s mercy beating his breast, you served your Creator, thus you served the rest of us freedom-loving people.   

              

28th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 13, 2013

It’s not quite the greeting party one would expect when entering a town or village. The greeting party of ten lepers, though, most likely consisted of the sort of greeters that Jesus wanted to meet and expected to encounter.

I suppose it would have been nice and appropriate if Jesus was greeted by the Mayor, the Governor, the City council, the City Manager, the local sports hero like Big Papi, or the most prominent and successful business men and women who would extend their hands and heart s in greeting someone like Jesus who comes to their community. There’s nothing like a warm greeting from big shots and the movers and shakers of a certain village, town, or city. But rather, Jesus, the Savior of the world, was greeted at the gates by the group that he would not in a thousand years want to exchange for all the heroes and prominent people in the world. Being greeted and met in this village by ten lepers was the perfect greeting. It was a greeting that was not below our Lord. His humility stands out once again.

The concept of a greeting is something people appreciate. Some do shy away from it. But most people like to be greeted when they enter a place where they want to feel welcome. Wal-Mart has their greeters. Churches have their greeters. Greeting is a wonderful human concept, and it started right at the beginning. Adam greeted Eve with the words, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” The man Adam refused all the other parts of God’s creation as a suitable partner, and greeted the woman Eve as the one to whom the human race would grow and multiply. “This one, at last.” It’s seems like Adam was saying, “Finally, Lord, you got it right! I found the perfect greeting!” But what God really did was to allow Adam the freedom to make the perfect choice of love for himself. Adam’s greeting is one of love.

As is the greeting between Jesus and the ten lepers. It’s a meeting and greeting of love, and pity, and compassion.

How many of us, if we were to be met by ten lepers when we entered the town of, say, Leicester, would consider that a meeting of love? Probably not too many of us. But this is one of the most fundamental ways in which our Lord will put to the test the deepness or the shallowness of our faith in him. Tested by those who are despised by the world; those who are considered outcasts; those we wouldn’t want to touch with our hands even if we were wearing five pairs of rubber gloves; those who smell bad for lack of a shower over the past week. Our faith will not be tested more seriously than those times we encounter people who cause us to say, “Lord, you really didn’t send this person into my life for a few fleeting seconds, did you?” The answer is, “Yup!”

This is why Pope Francis in some respects is a groundbreaking Pope. He’s a security nightmare! Why? Because he wants so much to be met by the ten lepers wherever he is. He wears his faith on his sleeve, as did his predecessors in their own way. Pope Francis throws Christ out there for those who wish to catch him. Jesus is the one hanging on the end of the fishing pole of Pope Francis, and the Holy Father wants people to take the bait of love and mercy. If we take the bait of Christ to all places and parts of our lives, then we can’t but help to ensure that love and mercy will win the day. And in a world that continues to challenge our faith more and more with its secular craziness, we have the daily need to be grounded in the food of Christ. He is our bait, as he was for the lepers.

When Jesus entered that village on that day long ago, he was prepared to meet the ten lepers. He probably didn’t know what sort of sick person or sick persons were going to greet him at the gates of the village. But he certainly knew it would be the ill and the desperate.

Every town or village Jesus entered on his way to Jerusalem, a city where he would actually be met by the sickest of them all – those who wanted him dead and buried – every town he entered, Jesus would be met first by the sick and possessed. Everywhere he traveled in his public ministry, these were his greeters. It wasn’t the Mayor or Governor, it wasn’t the local sports hero, or the prominent business man. It was those who believed they needed him the most. See how God works?

We are not always sent into our lives the easy path with those people who please us. The ones we laugh with and easily converse with. As Scripture says, “If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?…Do not the pagans do the same? (Mt 5:46-47). So, since we’re not tax collectors or pagans, but rather lovers of the Christian faith, we will be greeted by those we may presently be trying to avoid. This is God’s way of pushing those internal buttons, causing us to reflect on the choices we make.

Jesus was met by 10 lepers. It was the perfect greeting party for our Lord, and one that he fully expected in one form of sickness or another. Without hesitation, Jesus brought them relief. This is the perfect example of love and compassion, to which all of us are to imitate.

27th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 6, 2013

I’m sure we all know of nonprofit organizations we are either connected to by way of time and/or treasure, or just simply have an awareness of.

There are countless nonprofit organizations who claim to be such. Certainly our Church is considered a nonprofit organization, which is why the message of Pope Francis that we be a poor Church in order to be truer to our mission in this world is a good message. It’s a message that hits home and reminds us that giving, sharing, and caring for others is at the heart of our faith in the Person of Jesus Christ. As Jesus cared for the poor and ill of his time (how many Gospels have we seen this?), granting them relief and healing through his pity and compassion, so our lives are to mirror that of our Lord to the degree to which we are capable of reflecting his presence.

Whereas the Church of Jesus Christ is considered a nonprofit organization by government and worldly standards, at the same time God’s Church and all of its “inhabitants” are to create and amass profit for heaven. Our profit is realized in spiritual terms through material means at times, where the material means we may possibly use, be it time, talent, and/or treasure, are meant to serve the ways of Christ. Serving our Lord means no personal concern and regard for material profit. Instead, the bottom line is the salvation of one’s soul.

And then there’s the nonprofit like a UMass Memorial Hospital, an institution that is supposedly not in the business of making money. It was a few years ago I remember reading in the printed news that they amassed $90 million in profit for one year. Now, the doctors and nurses in that hospital are world class. We’re blessed to have them so close to our medical needs. I’ve seen their dedication and talent firsthand through my own ministry as an on-call chaplain. But the whole entity is labeled as a nonprofit, but a different sort of one where profit is reported. I haven’t figured that one out yet. Are they nonprofit, or a for-profit? Or nonprofit that needs to make a profit to keep its doors open? Or a for-profit that disguises themselves as a nonprofit? Some would say the same about certain parishes, that it seems like they’re in the business of making money. And their belief would not be incorrect.

And then there’s Visitation House here in Worcester. A definite nonprofit organization that serves the needs of women who are pregnant and have nowhere else to turn.  What Visitation House does in its nonprofit status is to take faith the size of a mustard seed, and say to a potential abortion, “Be uprooted and tossed into the sea!” Visitation House serves the spiritual and physical needs of its pregnant mothers (motherhood begins at conception, not at birth), with its material goods so generously donated by 1000’s of people throughout Worcester County. It is a true nonprofit in that it does not serve itself.

What a true nonprofit consists of, where finances are used solely for the mission they represent, and where people work very hard and are very dedicated, a true nonprofit consists of unprofitable servants. This is what Jesus calls the Apostles in the Gospel. This is what he tells them they are. It’s their second name. “Peter the unprofitable servant. James the unprofitable servant. Judas the unprofitable servant.” You are “unprofitable servants doing what you were obliged to do.”

On the surface, it doesn’t sound like there is much thanks and gratitude in the words of our Lord to his Apostles. But it is a very thankful, gratuitous statement. It’s a statement that measures their worth. They are words meant to help us understand that doing God’s work is not about material profit. But rather about using our material and physical “profits” to serve the Lord in this world. And to serve him by easing the burden of others.

Unprofitable servants have faith the size of a mustard seed. And what we can accomplish with a small amount of faith are some pretty extraordinary and unusual things, like telling a mulberry bush to be uprooted and planted in the sea. When’s the last time that happened?

Certainly, the language Jesus uses here regarding our faith and its possibilities is figurative language. But the purpose of his choice of words is for us to know we are capable of the unusual, the extraordinary, and the seemingly impossible, like saving the life of a child in the womb. With only a mustard seed of faith. And to do so in ways that result in our unprofitable status, materially. When we serve God in truth, we serve Him spiritually through material and/or spiritual means.

The Apostles go on to complain to Jesus that they have given up everything to follow him. Meaning, to serve him. We follow Christ in our lives for the purpose of serving him. We don’t follow Jesus with the hope of acquiring a bigger and better home, more money (C’mon Jesus, give me a few million and I’ll follow you forever!”), a status vehicle, or even great Civil War items. We follow the Master because we are his servants. And in our heavenly servitude, which really is freedom at its best, we leave our mark in the communities we live, and the people we are in contact with.

We are unprofitable servants doing what we are obliged to do through our Baptism. Our satisfaction and joy, and our reward is in serving the Lord. The profit we can count on through our commitment and dedication to Christ awaits us in eternal life.