Homily 31st Sunday Ordinary Time October 30, 2016

We’re on a little stretch run here for tax collectors. Last week’s Gospel, which I’m sure you studied all week, was Jesus placing a tax collector next to a Pharisee in the temple area set aside for prayer, and the humility of the tax collector won the gold star in the story.

This week we shift from a parable to a real story, with a real person and a real name; Zacchaeus. Interestingly, the name Zacchaeus in Hebrew means clean, or pure. Like Ivory soap. Except Zacchaeus’ occupation was anything but an occupation of Ivory soap. It was an occupation that was as filthy, soiled and dirty as one could get in the 1st century. It was sordid, cheating, and arrogant. He needed that bar of Ivory soap to reclaim the meaning of his name. His bar of soap came by in the Person of Jesus. He does the same for us; he cleans our souls like no other bar of soap.

The excitement of Zacchaeus in this Lukan Gospel is an excitement that reveals the popularity of Jesus. As the Lord enters the famous town of Jericho where the walls came tumbling down centuries before this encounter, the crowds swell to mass proportion. You would think that Abraham Lincoln was arriving in Gettysburg to give an address of 2-1/2 minutes to dedicate a cemetery 3-1/2 months after a 3 day battle between the North and South. That’s how excited the crowds are to see Jesus. Zacchaeus gets drawn away from his tax table and caught up in the excitement of our Lord’s entry. It’s similar to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to start Passover week…”Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Well, Zacchaeus wants a front row seat for this show, but he’s too short and too late to be in the front row as Jesus’ motorcade passes by.

Zacchaeus reminds me of all the short nuns in Rome when there’s a huge crowd in St. Peter’s Square and the Pope is entering the square. They go underneath the crowds to get to the front, sometimes pushing and shoving. I wouldn’t believe it unless I saw it firsthand. Who’s gonna push back a nun? Are you kidding me?

Zacchaeus is a bit wiser about his front row seat. He climbs a tree so he can see Jesus above everyone else. (It’s a good thing there are no trees in St. Peter’s Square). He gets Jesus’ attention. It’s almost like Zacchaeus is rising from the ash heap of his profession, and placing himself in a position of wanting Jesus to say something to him. And it worked. It worked to perfection.

This is rich symbolism for our lives too. To place ourselves in a spot where we are easily accessible to the Lord. Where is that spot? Certainly here in the Body of Christ, his Church. But out there, that spot could be most anywhere. What has to be present is the awareness that prayer can happen anywhere on God’s green earth. To limit and restrict prayer to Church or home, we would be cheating ourselves on the level that Zacchaeus cheated the tax payers of his time, which is greatly. Our prayer lives are much more rewarding and fulfilling when we pray anywhere. That’s the marvel of what Zacchaeus does.

In a big crowd, Jesus says to the short man, “It’s your house I must come to.” We know Jesus reads hearts better than anyone. He knows the heart of Zacchaeus and sees his potential, just as God knows the inner workings of our hearts. The place where we can think bad thoughts, and no one around us would know the difference. But God knows.

If Jesus can read the pollution inside the heart of Zacchaeus, then why would he, the holiest of all Persons, want to spend time with him? Jesus knows all the people who see this are going to flip out when he invites himself to the house of the chief tax collector. Today, that would be close to Jesus inviting himself to the house of a drug dealer. The people in Jericho go crazy. If those walls were still standing, they would knock them down. Why does he do this? Why does the Lord subject himself to such ridicule? The answer is found in today’s 1st reading in the Book of Wisdom; “For you love all things that are and loath nothing that you have made.”

God made Zacchaeus. He made the little guy whose name means clean and pure, who is presently filthy and a cheat. In the same way, God made us, and will never abandon us if and when we fall short. No pun intended.

When Jesus reads the inner workings of our hearts, the spot that only God can penetrate, then he desires to come to our house to extend his mercy. This is classic Pope Francis in this Year of Mercy. Zacchaeus could have said no to Jesus’ self-invitation. He could have said, ‘Stay away from my house,” and Jesus would have stayed away. Just like we can put up walls and say no to God. He will not, under any circumstances, force himself into our house. Or hearts. God is a lot of things, but he’s not a burglar.

Why no forcing? Because force is not love. Divine Love can only be love when it’s accepted freely by us. Which is why God loves all things that are…Meaning, all the goodness that represents his creation. And Zacchaeus was an important part of his creation. Just as we are.

To reference the last words from today’s Book of Wisdom, Jesus gets Zacchaeus to abandon his wickedness and to believe in him as Lord. We all believe Jesus is Lord, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. But are willing to abandon any wickedness to reflect our belief in his name?

Zacchaeus is a name for all of us. We are meant to be Zacchaeus, clean and pure, especially during a filthy political season. That’s the goal of a Christian life.

Where there is an absence of cleanliness and purity, may we allow Jesus into our homes so that he may touch us with his mercy.

 

Ministry Schedule for November and December 2016

SATURDAY SUNDAY
LECTOR SCHEDULE LECTOR SCHEDULE
SATURDAY  4:00 PM  SUNDAY 7:30 AM 10:00 AM
Nov 05 F. McGuire Nov 06 C. Dougherty K. Law
Nov 12 R Lapid Nov 13 A. Huffman M. Martella
Nov 19 D. Pasquale Nov 20 W. Borek L. Morin
Nov 26 W. Stanton Nov 27 K. Shaughnessy M. Greene
Dec 03 F. McGuire Dec 04 C. Dougherty K. Law
Dec 10 R Lapid Dec 11 W. Borek M. Martella
Dec 17 D. Pasquale Dec 18 A. Huffman L. Morin
Dec 24 Dec 25
Dec 31 W. Stanton Jan 01 K. Shaughnessy M. Greene
SATURDAY SUNDAY
EUCHARISTIC MINISTERS EUCHARISTIC MINISTERS
SATURDAY  4:00 PM  SUNDAY 7:30 AM 10:00 AM
Nov 05 D. McGuire Nov 06 P. Powers K. Stiles
D. Pasquale S. Dougherty W. Evanowski
Nov 12 J. Wine Nov 13 C. Huffman M. Greene
W. Stanton D. Huffman C. Grady
Nov 19 W. Stanton Nov 20 J. Hester M. Kennedy
R. Lapid B. Hester J. Morin
Nov 26 J. Wine Nov 27 C. Huffman L. A. Branche
D. Pasquale D. Huffman M. Phaneuf
Dec 03 D. McGuire Dec 04 P. Powers M. Kennedy
K. Stiles S. Dougherty W. Evanowski
Dec 10 J. Wine Dec 11 J. Hester M. Greene
D. Pasquale B. Hester C. Grady
Dec 17 R. Lapid Dec 18 C. Huffman M. Phaneuf
W. Stanton D. Huffman J. Morin
Dec 24 Dec 25
Dec 31 D. McGuire Jan 01 J. Hester M. Kennedy
D. Pasquale B. Hester C. Grady

Homily 30th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 23, 2016

In the words of St. Paul to Timothy today, “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.” If I see any more of those political commercials while trying to watch the baseball playoffs, I’ll make the departure of that channel at hand. I can’t change the channel fast enough!

As Paul writes to Timothy, his brother disciple of Christ, someone who Paul saw as his very son, the Apostle is certainly writing about his impending, imminent death. He knows it’s close. Somehow, someway, Paul knows it’s near. His last heartbeat is on the horizon.

As a priest I’ve witnessed this a number of times now, where some folks who are ill know that their departure is at hand. In my limited understanding of those situations, there’s more than meets the eye. There are heavenly things going on beyond the senses that we cannot see, hear, or touch. But the one who is experiencing these heavenly doses of grace, they know. They know more about departure than the healthy do. Especially their own departure.

Does Paul know at this point in his writing that he will be beheaded one day soon in Rome for professing, preaching, and teaching Jesus as Lord, insulting Caesar who thinks he is lord? Probably not. He probably doesn’t know all of the details of how his departure at hand will take place. But what he most likely can see at this time are the angels circling the wagon of his soul. And as they circle and protect his soul, they draw closer and closer, until at last they touch his soul, and carrying his soul away at the moment of departure after his violent death. It’s a beautiful example of God’s power and love overcoming the human violence we perpetrate every day this world remains.

While Paul is writing to Timothy about his upcoming death, I take this image of his departure being at hand and connect it to Jesus’ parable in Luke’s Gospel today. As the story goes, we have two people, a Pharisee and a tax collector. In the way our Lord tells the story, there’s no obvious departure at hand. Neither the Pharisee nor the tax collector enter the temple area because they know their departure from this world is close. They go in there to pray. Neither one of them sees what Paul saw; angels circling the wagons of their souls. This parable of Jesus is not first concerned with our physical death and our moving on to eternity.

However, it is a parable about departure being at hand. That a certain type of death is about to happen. It’s a parable from our Lord that prepares a soul to receive the circling angels for the day when that ultimate departure is at hand. For that day of entrance into the good eternity or the bad eternity.

The departure we see in this parable that speaks to us is the departure of conversion. The departure from sin to holiness. Whatever was happening internally with the tax collector, probably over a period of time, on the day he walked into God’s house in the holy city of Jerusalem to pray side-by-side with the Pharisee, he was no longer going to be a hated tax collector by the time he came back out.

His departure at hand, which he would have thought about long and with great intensity, was his departure from cheating, stealing, arrogance, abuse of power and position, condescending attitude toward the lowly and those of little means, which was the definition of a tax collector in the 1stcentury. He had no heart for the poor or destitute. He took advantage of them. He looked down on them. He hated them.

He walked into the temple area with a heart filled with contrition and sorrow for having offended God in the way he treated others. He came out a different person that went in because he opened himself to God’s grace.

The other guy? The Pharisee? His departure from his former ways was not even close to happening. “Hey God, here’s a list of my accomplishments and all the good things I’ve done for you. How about a divine slap on my back?” How about a divine slap on your head!

God has given this Pharisee so much. The capacity to share. To reveal God’s kindness. To be an example of how close the Lord is to his people. And this guy says to God, ‘I’m doing you the favor!” Do we really think that God can’t find someone to replace him? If He can find the next Saint to replace Mother Teresa, whose out there somewhere in the world right now, then God can certainly find the replacement for a misguided Pharisee.

But God in his love for us does not want to find someone else to replace him. Or any of us. The Lord wants more than anything for his departure to be at hand. To die to self and live for God. Which the tax collector did. Conversion. It’s a continuous, lifelong process for us. But somewhere along the way we all need to say with humility, “O, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” More beautiful words will never reach the ears of God.

These words can be spoken by us when we allow God’s grace to touch us in prayer. When we allow the angels to be close. When we desire the Saints to be close. When we allow Mary to be our Mother. The incredible beauty of Catholicism in all its splendor.

While the departure that Paul writes to Timothy about will certainly come for all of us, the departure of death, may we pray with fervor that the departure of the tax collector will be ours prior to the departure Paul writes about. Conversion before death. We want those angels circling the wagons of our souls as we approach our death in the body. What ensures their presence at that critical moment are the words of the tax collector standing humbly before God, “O, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

These words are second only to the words of Mary Magdalene who said, “I have seen the Lord” after the crucifixion. But it’s the words of conversion of the tax collector that lead us to the words of eternal life spoken by Mary Magdalene. And you won’t get this in any political commercial.

 

 

 

Homily 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 16, 2016

Prayer is the seed of a Christian’s life. A seed that is meant to grow to big proportions over the journey of a lifetime.

There are many aspects and reactions to prayer, as we all know from experience. The more I read about prayer – that personal communication we have with God at no cost, and not limited to any space – the more I read about this aspect to our faith in God from those are expert pray-ers, the more I realize there is need for less words and more silence.

If you presently approach your prayer life in such a way where you think you need to say a lot of words in order to be heard by God, then my priestly advice is that you may want to make certain adjustments to your prayer life. And don’t be afraid to do so. I’m not saying “Stop praying the Rosary. Stop praying that Novena with many words spoken.” Please don’t stop that daily recitation of the Rosary with its powerful, vivid mysteries of Jesus’ life. And if you don’t pray a daily Rosary at present, please work hard at making time for one. Our world needs it. And it will benefit you greatly, personally. And please don’t stop praying any Novena you may pray…to St. Jude, to St. Therese, to the Immaculate Conception, to St. John Paul II. Continue praying.

But what I do say alongside this is to make time for more silence with the Lord. Get rid of some of the countless distractions and gain your portion and your share of contemplation. I’m not asking you to join the monks in Spencer who enjoy the beer, their jelly, and their chocolates. And I’m not asking you to join a convent where silence is the golden rule. Unless, of course, God is calling you to that life. Then I would say “Go, because that’s where you belong.”

I am suggesting, however, that we all make a genuine effort at allowing some silence to penetrate our lives, and enjoy the spiritual benefits that result from silent prayerful action. It’s like a silent auction with God, where he has already paid the loud price in the Cross of his Son for the silent purchase of our souls.

Why more silence for us? Well, first, because it’s a Presidential election season, accompanied by the worst of commercials on television. Commercials that attempt to attach themselves to the anxiety within us, and bring about the worst reaction in us. They try very hard to make us less than Christian. Been there, done that!

Also, more silence is the heart of why Jesus tells this parable in this week’s Gospel. A judge who feared a widow because he feared she would eventually come and strike him if he didn’t render her a just decision. In like manner of how Joshua mowed down Amalek in the 1st reading. The same way the Indians mowed down the Red Sox. Either way, there’s nothing more dangerous than an angry widow. And I’ve seen that too.

What the judge eventually realizes is that he’s going to have no peace in his life unless he gives in to the widow’s demands. She will hound him from morning till evening, falling asleep with nightmares about her breaking into his house and mowing him down like the Indians mowed down the Red Sox.

When we live like that, we have no peace and no silence in our lives. When we get caught up in the disrespect and evil of Presidential commercials, we have no peace and no silence in our souls. We have distractions, lots of anxiety, nervous disorders that are preventable, and a whole lot of confusion. I’ll give you three guesses as to who is the Father of Confusion….He goes by Satan, the Devil, or Beelzebub. Take your pick. I’m sure, like myself, you’ve heard many people say, “How can I vote for either one of them? Is this the best they can do? I’m writing in Mickey Mouse! I’m writing in Michelangelo because he did such a great job painting the Sistine Chapel!”

My answer for you good people – very good people – of Immaculate Conception is that we don’t mirror the judge in Jesus’ powerful, personal parable. That we don’t live in fear from morning until evening, having nightmares about who will be living on Pennsylvania Avenue in January. But not only that scenario. How about issues with our families, where there may be an absence of mercy and love? Or, issues at work with a co-worker we can’t stand? Or, the gossip that can spew forth like burning lava, participating in the ugliness of a human hornet’s nest, a feeding frenzy, tearing down someone’s reputation? Lack of silence with God will lead to such things.

Leave that stuff to the professional haters, the ones who are sadistic enough to make up those political commercials that eat at our craw and insult our Christian intelligence. They eat at our precious souls created in the image and likeness of God.

In the end, Jesus’ purpose for us in this parable can be seen in a few important ways. First, make time for silence. Render a just judgment for yourself. Because you deserve that silence. We’ve been created for that silence. That’s what God-fearing people seek.

Second, don’t allow yourself to be mowed down by the surrounding craziness. Weariness is always one step away. Never far from us, unless we’re monks who drink beer and eat chocolates in Spencer. Don’t be mowed down like the Indians mowed down the Red Sox. It’s a choice we have power over. The power of silence.

And third, God is in control. When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Will he find we trusted him all the way through? Or will he find fear and anxiety? We are Christians. We live in faith. We live every day in the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ, because the resurrection is now. Allow silent faith to overcome confusion.

Prayer is the seed of the Christian life. Water that seed in silence in God’s presence.

Parish Council Notes for September 25, 2016

Present: Josephine Ferry; Ann-Marie Sheehan; Polly Flynn; Stephen Sycks, Fr. Walter Riley.

Fr. Riley opened with a prayer.

Steve Sycks, Finance Committee Chair said the Parish is financially slightly ahead of last year, and the Parish is doing okay. The end of the fiscal year (August 31, 2016) saw an increase of $22,000, including $1000 a month into DEF (Diocesan Expansion Fund), the Parish savings.

All invoices and bills are paid, and there is no deficit.

An audit was conducted by an outside agency this past summer for the finances of the Parish. The audit showed that all the finances in the Parish are clean and accurate. All the numbers matched up.

Fr. Riley mentioned the possibility of expanding the website in any ways the Council can think of in order to post more information for parishioners and others who search the site.

Fr. Riley said that Religious Education is off to a good start for the 2016-2017 school year, and that we are blessed as a Parish to have such dedicated teachers in our program, as well as the hard work and dedication of Mary Sycks.

Fr. Riley mentioned that the physical condition of the Church and rectory are good at this time, with no major projects pending. He also mentioned the financial concern involved when parishioners die, and that the Parish needs to be aware that some recent deaths are faithful men and women who have been very generous to the Parish.

In the absence of Matt Foster, Council Chairman, Fr. Riley mentioned the update on the canonization of Fr. Edward T. Connors has been given approval to move forward by Bishop McManus. Parishioner Dr. Christopher Klofft will be responsible for gathering information from those who knew Fr. Connors.

Security cameras have been purchased by the Parish and will soon be placed in 5 different sites throughout the property.

Fr. Riley mentioned that the 9th Division Mass will be held at the 10:00 Mass on October 16. We will host those who attend with food and refreshments in the Church basement after Mass.

Parishioner Trang Charlton has taken over responsibilities for running the Parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, replacing Ed and Marcia Kennedy who conducted the affairs of this group for many years.

It was mentioned that our Parish Council should have a High School member on the board, as well as a representative from the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Fr. Riley offered a closing prayer.