Homily 17th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 30, 2017

A treasure buried in a field. A pearl of great price. And good fish.
Jesus has been using so many images over the past few weeks of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, that it almost has our heads spinning. He takes so many common parts of life, and then uses it as a comparison to the Kingdom of Heaven and what it’s like. But notice that after our Lord uses each image, there’s an action that follows. Which tells us the Kingdom of Heaven is about the understanding heart Solomon asks for from God in the 1st reading, but also it has just as much to do with performing actions consistent with an understanding heart that knows what is of God, and what is not.
First, a buried treasure in a field, being an image of God’s Kingdom. Jesus uses lots of imagination and wisdom to express the incredible beauty of his kingdom that he now shares with us. Our Lord’s imagination, his Divine Brain, knows no limitations when sharing with us what his home is like. Yes, he grew up in Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, ministered around the Sea of Galilee, and came to Jerusalem where the fire pit was. But his home is heaven, where he first came from.
And after stating that his home is like a buried treasure in a field, the action follows. An action that expresses an even deeper wisdom found in the human heart; go out and buy the whole field! Make sure the spiritual property to be purchased is big enough that you don’t miss the buried treasure.
Imagine buying a big piece of property with the intention of owning the buried treasure, then find out after you purchased a large tract of land that the buried treasure was five feet outside the boundary of your property. And by the time we realize it, someone else purchased the land where the treasure is buried, and put up a sign facing your property that said, “Not for sale. Have a nice day.”
You know what that’s like? We come across an accident, slow down because we’re concerned, and then continue on slowly, thinking, “I’ll let the person behind me assist them.” The intention to help was there, we bought some spiritual property, but missed the action of buying the property of the buried treasure. We were about five feet off. The importance of the proper action.
Second, in our search for pearls, we realize in the search that we want more than anything the Mother Pearl, the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s the heart of Solomon we heard in the 1st reading. God asks Solomon what he wants. Solomon asks, not for a long life, not for riches, which most people would want, and not for the life of his enemies, which a few too many may want. Rather, he asks for understanding to know right from wrong so that he, as King of Israel, can make fair and just judgments in all the cases that come before him, and not favor one person over another.
This parable for us is more about diligence and perseverance. I love watching the show American Pickers. One of my favorite parts that happens once in a while is when they find an item that they call “The Holy Grail.” “This is the Holy Grail of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles!” In other words, they found in some barn or warehouse out there in America the Mother Pearl in some way connected to their business. But how long did it take them to find it? How many thousands of miles did they drive, and how many homes and buildings did they search before coming across it? Diligence pays off. Which points to this parable.
Imagine finding the Mother Pearl of faith in God, and then hemming and hawing as to whether you want to sell off what you own and spend what it costs for the pearl. “Let me think about it overnight. I’ll come back tomorrow.” Two things: you return the next day and its gone. Someone wiser purchased your pearl of great price while you slept on it. Or, you don’t make it to tomorrow. We end up in Purgatory tonight, when the goal is the Kingdom of Heaven. Always be diligent in your faith. And the pearl of great price will be ours if we take the action of buying it each day.
And third, the Kingdom of Heaven is like the net thrown into the sea, looking for delicious, edible fish to lower your cholesterol. In the parable, there’s the understanding that there are good fish and bad fish, wheat and weeds. Sound familiar?
A healthy approach to life is to see that most people are good. Like when I go to Wright’s Chicken Farm, and there will be hundreds of people there some days, and not one of them is causing trouble. Not one. Even Red Sox and Yankees fans get along when there’s good chicken involved. Most people are genuinely good. I truly believe that. But there’s enough bad people out there in need of Christian conversion. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t need the Police.
Imagine being in a couple small groups of people, one group looking to commit a crime that will hurt others, or a group looking to commit the sin of gossip. And instead of taking the action of backing off and away, we stay there with them. We hang out with bad, smelly fish without any attempt at correction or conversion, but rather participation.
At the heart of this parable is discernment and courage. Knowing the good fish from the bad fish, which is the wisdom of Solomon, and then having the courage of Christ to take the action of not being complicit with the bad fish, like the Pilate’s and Judas Isacariot’s of the world. The likeness of the Kingdom of Heaven always sides with Jesus Christ.
Buy the right property, and don’t miss it by five feet. Diligence and perseverance. Discernment and courage. And we will know the Kingdom of heaven, already in our midst.

Religious Education

Dear Parents/Guardians:

We hope you are enjoying the beautiful summer weather. It’s time again to register your child or children in our
Religious Education Program for the 2017-2018 year. Please fill out the registration form and return it to the Rectory by August 12th. All children are welcome to attend Religious Education classes and will not be denied participation due to financial hardship.

Please note the following:
 Fees are listed on the Registration Form.
 First day of class for Grades K-6 will be Sunday, September 10th 8:45AM-9:45AM.
 There is a parent meeting on Sunday, September 10th at 8:45AM for parents of children in grades K-6.
 First day of class for Grades 7-10 will be Sunday, September 10th 7:00PM-8:15PM.
 There is a parent meeting on Sunday, September 10th at 7:00PM for parents of children in grades 7-10.
 First day of class for Confirmation Candidates (Grade 11) will be Sunday, September 17th 7:00PM-8:15PM.
 There is a Confirmation Candidate and parent meeting on Sunday, September 24th at 7:00PM.

We are blessed with many dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly in our various programs. More help is always needed to ensure a continuity of programs that emphasize solid Catholic teaching, spiritual enrichment, liturgy and service. Please consider sharing your time, talent and treasure in this important ministry.

We encourage parents to consider attending the 10:00 a.m. Mass on Sunday with your children during which time we will offer the Children’s Liturgy of the Word. We remind you that Sunday Mass attendance is where our Catholic faith begins and ends. Our faith is centered in the celebration of the Eucharist.

We look forward to teaching the Catholic faith to your child in a classroom setting, but remember that you as parents are the first teachers of the Catholic faith to your children at home. If you are not already doing so, one way to help develop their faith is through daily prayer with them. Prayer at meals and pointing to God’s creation are some wonderful ways of introducing God to your child.

If you have any questions or would like to help with our program please contact me at: 508-868-8119 or email: mks723@msn.com.

Sincerely,
Mary Sycks
Administrator of Religious Education

Homily 16th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 23, 2017

Do we need any further proof that Jesus, besides being in the business of salvation, is also in the business of knocking down the walls of modern day political correctness? He would be rejected today by so many, including professed Christians, who would consider his language too harsh and too hard to accept. “Soften it up, Lord! You’re not being very nice in your words. Why do you say there are evildoers in the world who enjoy sowing seeds of weeds among good people trying to live a life of goodness?” And so it goes.
One purpose of many of the parables that our Lord teaches the people of antiquity, as well as modernity, is to create a contrast between what reflects the love of God, and what reflects, for lack of a better phrase, the love of evil. And the contrast is very sharp, as it should be if presented honestly. Evildoers and the righteous.
We can say that Christ is preparing his chosen disciples for future suffering in his name, a way of life that has not presently disappeared, where so many are still persecuted for the name of Christ. It would be right to tell the Twelve that weeds are going to grow next to their good wheat and attempt to destroy them. Heck, they have one big nasty weed in their midst already, named Judas Iscariot. We can say this is our Lord’s purpose; preparation for mistreatment and suffering in his name. But even more, our Lord is teaching a reality about the world we inhabit. The reality being that the weeds are present, plying their destructive trade as we go about the righteous business of the Lord. In the midst of this truth, we don’t allow the weeds to overcome the goodness we seek to live and carry out.
It would be preferable for some if Jesus told a nice, easy, fluffy story of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, where no present confrontations and contrasts exist. Where evil is ignored. And he pretty much does so with the short parable of the mustard seed. Note the difference between that quick story, and the one of the weeds and the wheat. The mustard seed is the smallest of the seeds, but when grown it becomes the largest of plants that birds of the sky use for comfort. A nice story; nothing negative; sweet and fluffy. A feel-good story for those who favor a feel-good Christianity.
The mustard seed is the earth; the earth will “grow” one day into the Kingdom of Heaven when Jesus returns for a second appearance; and we the people of faith are the birds of the sky who will enjoy the full growth of the mustard seed. A feel-good, rated G movie if there ever was one. But far from the total package. Life is far from the perfect story of the mustard seed. Just ask any teacher in Worcester as they seek out the justice of a fair contract.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds is so real life it should have its own reality show. As we carry forth our baptismal responsibility to further the Kingdom of God through actions of love and concern for others, we know full well that roadblocks are going to occur along the way. No contract; no employment; loss of loved ones…including unexpectedly; a victim of theft or discrimination; physical and mental health concerns; having to drive through Kelly Square; the list of confrontations is endless.
But through it all, knowing that some roadblocks are more difficult than others, we hopefully remain the good wheat that God created us to be. At the heart of this is faith. To put aside or to lose our faith in the victory of Christ on the Cross is to lose our true sense of purpose. Faith, and the practice of it, gives us purpose and meaning far beyond the boundaries of the physical world. Our faith keeps us centered, balanced and focused during those times when the weeds are doing their best to draw us away from the love of Christ.
Along the way, and this is what Jesus does here, weeds are to be recognized and called out. But always within the context of our Christian faith, and not becoming a Weeder. There’s the old saying; “Hate the weed, but love the Weeder.” Hate the sin, but don’t lose our love for people, the sinners, of which we all are.
It seems that in the culture we try to set up nowadays, we don’t want to recognize any weeds present among the wheat. To call out a weed is to offend someone or their lifestyle. It would be great if we already lived in the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven. You wouldn’t have to listen to me preach anymore. But we try our best to create a perfect world, many times with the absence of God. Or the famous words of Pope Francis get used, or misused, “Who am I to judge?” The truer statement for the parable of the wheat and the weeds is, ‘Who am I not to judge?” We have to judge what is of God and what is not of God every day, while not losing our love for people.
The path of Christ is far different from the culture our world seeks to create today. The wheat of Christ is far different from the weeds of this world. And to become part of the “anything goes” culture will put distance between ourselves and the One who suffered and died for us. That’s a necessary spiritual balance for a Christian.
Allow the perfection of the mustard seed parable to give us hope on this faith journey. We have something beyond description to look forward to. There are no weeds in that perfect parable of joy and peace.
But also allow the parable of the wheat and the weeds growing together be part of our Christian belief and practice. Convert the weeds, not forgetting our own daily conversion. And don’t pretend like the weeds don’t exist. This will put us in a good place of living our faith through the multiple graces of God, and his beloved Son.

Homily 15th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 16, 2017

For the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus uses four different types of earth conditions, four different types of ground, in the teaching of the story. He certainly could have used many more types of soil and earth, and attach them to the Kingdom of Heaven and its meaning. In Ireland alone he could have used 40 shades of green. But our Lord uses four examples that his listeners can personally relate to, because they happen to be from types of earth the people of Israel would know best.
In Ireland, they wouldn’t know much about dry, rocky soil. There’s never a drought in Ireland, on the land or in the pubs. In the desert of the southwestern United States, they wouldn’t know much about rich soil and fertile ground. They hardly see rain. But those listening to Jesus teach on that day long ago, they could visualize in their minds exactly what he was saying, because they trod these four various types of soil each day in Israel.
And, since man was formed from the dust of the earth – the words of Ash Wednesday… “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Since man was formed from the dust of the earth, it would be proper to say that Jesus is teaching in this parable four different types of people in relation to faith in God. It’s proper our Lord uses examples of the very land from which our creation began, to teach about four different types of that one creation, namely, the human person. And then how we’re either connected or disconnected to the Kingdom of Heaven by way of the instrument of faith.
First of all, we’re all connected to the ground. Our most natural place of existence is walking the ground from which we were first formed. This is why airplanes didn’t come on the scene until Orville and Wilbur Wright did their amazing deed at Kitty Hawk, N.C. early last century. Humans were not formed with wings. The way we’re trying to change the human body nowadays, from one gender to another, maybe one day the mad scientists will implant wings into our sides, putting all the airlines out of business. Until then, we are beings of the ground. We are most natural when our feet are planted on the earth. Which is why this parable of Jesus is so richly human as he uses the earth to teach the necessity of having lasting faith.
Faith is a grace from God, but faith works in concert with our will to choose it each day. Our faith in Christ is not something that is completely beyond our choosing, where God is kind enough to just dump it on us. The first step of having faith in Christ does come from outside us in the sense that our Lord makes faith possible through his gift of grace. But accepting faith, and practicing our Christian faith in our lives, that’s on us as individuals, choosing to make it our own.
The order Jesus teaches in this parable goes from worst to first. It’s the perfect order for any homily preached in his name. He puts the tough examples in the beginning and middle of the parable, but it ends on a high note. The high note of bearing good fruit 100, 60, or thirtyfold. This mirrors our life; tough times along the way, ending in resurrection, which has no end.
Any homily about Christ that ends on a negative note is the worst homily in the world. The symbolism is that our Lord is still in the grave, when he isn’t. It must end on a positive note, because he’s raised from the dead. Which is what Christ does in the parable of the sower and the seed.
It’s sad that we even have the first three examples of faith in this parable taught by the Master Teacher. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word, without understanding the word, and the Devil comes and steals what’s in their heart. I pray that your approach to safeguarding the word, the voice of God speaking to us in the Scriptures, is similar to mine; it’ll be a cold day in you know what before he ever leaves you know where and steals the pearl from my heart. Have a Christian determination to protect the word in your heart. And never allow this first sad example of man being formed from the soil happen to you. The Devil has no problem breaking the 7th commandment, stealing God’s word from our hearts, if we don’t safeguard against it.
Another sad example is the seed sown on rocky ground, hearing and receiving the word with joy, but its temporary. It’s fleeting, just for a moment. Here’s my negative, in the middle, preaching to you, the choir. This example of our Lord reminds me too much of what happens way too often after reception of the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. The sacrament is received, and then, … where did they go? Was there no root in the joy of learning and receiving the sacrament? We pray they return to their faith, because we still love them.
One more sad example of badly formed soil is the seed sown among thorns, where worldly anxieties and the lure of riches overpowers the seed. This is why I hope I never win Powerball. If I do, I’ll buy my own golf course, then get rid of the rest of it. God created a beautiful world for us who are formed from the soil of it. Lots of attractions out there, beginning with Disney World. The people of this 3rd example forget that all things are passing, except our faith, which leads us to seeing God face to face.
But it ends on a high note, this parable, and homily. Your heart is rich soil. It’s the soil God used when he created man and woman. Cultivate it with God’s word found in his Church. Hear it, understand it, trust it, and act on it. That’s the perfect person of faith, formed from the rich soil. With imperfections along the way, but always the perfection of choosing faith in the One who speaks the parable.

Homily 14th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 9, 2017

There’s not much better than a nice summer Gospel that matches the month and the weather. A Gospel of finding rest and light burdens.
We’re not all workaholics. There may be a few among this religious gathering of peace-loving people. Certainly, when you own your own company, we must do our best to make sure it doesn’t fold. That may at times require more time away from family and the other important things of life, and making sure our livelihood doesn’t cease in order to support oneself and one’s family. Such would be a balanced approach to labor and family.
A workaholic, on the other hand, is a person who has little or no awareness they are losing the important things in life, such as family. It sneaks up on them one day. They make excuses, not reasons, to spend crazy amounts of time at labor, saying over and over again that “This is what I have to do.” They have a ridiculously hard time being away from their profession. And an easier time – much easier – being away from a family vacation, with a little bit of rest to recharge some physical and spiritual batteries.
The rest that Jesus talks about giving –“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” – is surely the spiritual rest that every soul needs. Let me put it this way; if Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person on the Trinity, felt the need to take time to head up the mountain to pray and recharge for another day of ministry, then every person is in need of the same. Unless we believe that Jesus wasn’t a man’s man, or a woman’s man, and that he was weak in his approach to taking some down time, that the Son of God wasn’t as strong and energetic as we are, then his call to rest is one to be heeded on our behalf. It is spiritual rest he calls his Disciples to, but his call to rest is for the entire person, body and spirit.
Our Lord’s summer call to rest in him doesn’t require all sorts of money and riches that are needed at the best hotels at favorite vacation spots. If I didn’t go to Gettysburg and beyond, spending finances on average hotels and motels, then I would find a less expensive form of resting and reflecting on God’s personal presence and his many wonders in creation.
So, one simple theological point I make about our Lord’s invitation to slow down in him, to chill out in his loving embrace, is the point that has to do with his dominion, his power over all things, his mighty hand that holds all things, his omnipotence. And the verse is right there, hiding in the middle of the Gospel. It’s easy to hear it and bypass it; “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” The world is the Lord’s and all that is in it. We pretend to own things for a brief time, until we die. I guess it makes us feel good that we believe we own things.
I own that car, it’s finally paid off. I own my own house; we burned the mortgage last year without burning down the house. I own that horse that won the Kentucky Derby. I own my own plane, boat, train, and blimp. Would you like a ride in my blimp? In 19th century America, we used to think we owned other people. We pretend to own such things… and people, because one day we’re not gonna have any of it.
But that sunset at the ocean that doesn’t cost anything except a quarter tank of gas to get there; that snow-capped mountain that rises from the earth; that forest full of foliage; those Niagara Falls; we don’t own them. And neither does any country, no matter what they say. God created them; sustains them, and owns them so that we can share in his rest and incredible beauty. Such things are the physical part of what God has handed over to his beloved Son. St. Paul calls Jesus “The firstborn of all creation.” This includes the physical creation that God called forth. Our Lord doesn’t disown anything he created, because he saw that it was very good. And we are to enjoy this dimension of Jesus Christ. We share in his physical beauty of creation. Pope Francis would love this homily.
As we know, however, our Lord’s call to rest in him is by no means limited to the physical. His twofold call for us to rest in him is an invitation into the spiritual world of God’s unconditional love. And that’s where we realize in a personal way his abundant graces that he places before us.
Always the grace of his everlasting mercy. Seeking and accepting his mercy into our lives not only reveals the deepest meaning of the Cross, but also brings us to a place of spiritual rest, a place of confidence that he is for us, and not against us. Way too many folks walk around thinking that God is actually against them. That false belief is a pure contradiction to the meaning of the Cross, which is infinite love.
There is our Lord’s call to rest in his peace and healing. Some of the most peaceful people I’ve met have been close to death. Usually accompanied by some intense suffering, but they’ve crossed the bridge of our Lord’s invitation to rest in him, finding peace in their souls, where suffering and imminent death will actually intensify their peace. Only Christ can give such a gift.
So, our Lord’s dominion and call to rest in him touches our lives in a twofold way. Find some rest in his physical creation. He did a good job when creating it. There’s nothing better than the Original Artist. And be certain to take time to rest in Christ spiritually, where all good things for us have been handed over to him for our benefit.

Homily 13th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 2, 2017

As we celebrate America’s birthday this coming week, we all have the opportunity to express our love for country by way of enjoying festivities. Cookouts; gatherings with family and friends; wearing red, white, and blue; sneaking in an illegal firecracker or two. You can bring that to Confession.
As Americans of all stripes, it’s easy to love much about the country we’re blessed to call home. Here at Immaculate Conception, we stand on the heels of people like Fr. Ed Connors, whose chaplaincy of the 9th Infantry Division during World War II is well known to many of us. A true Patriot-Priest who served his country with honor and distinction back in the 1940’s. And hanging around these parts until his death in 1986.
To reflect Fr. Connors’ patriotism and love of country, just check out the back two stain-glass windows the good Padre had installed in the Church when it was built back in 1957. One is Blessed Mary blessing George Washington, titled Washington Prays For His Country, which the Bishop of Worcester at the time thought Fr. Connors was a bit too Protestant back in ’57 with that window. You can see who won that discussion. And the other one on the other side is For God and Country. A phrase that goes to the heart of the life of the former Pastor who invited thousands of veterans from the 9th Division back to Worcester each year to celebrate friendships and survival.
For God and Country. For God and Family. And therein lies the Greatest Generation; God, family, and country. I’ve seen this firsthand with many funerals I’ve been blessed to preside at. Funerals of veterans, as well as their spouses who made the country run while the enlisted were overseas. Both of them doing their duty for freedom.
God, family, and country gets to the heart of this week’s Gospel and readings. Readings about love, prioritizing our love, and enjoying the freedom that flows from our love.
“Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say you are not to love your parents and children. That we are to somehow leave them destitute and alone, especially in old age and sickness. Yet, my sense is that’s how some folks understand the words of our Lord, and feel offended by them, when the truth of Christian teaching and application is just the opposite. We are to love parents and children, and I would add siblings, friends, and strangers, even enemies. We are to love our country, as Fr. Connors did, with all its issues, bad laws, attacks on religious freedom, its setbacks and shortcomings. That sounds like a family!
But Jesus’ teaching to the Apostles is to help them understand and accept into their Christian discipleship that he takes second place to no one. His purpose has nothing at all to do with an oversized ego. He has no ego. So we can scratch that off the list of reasons why love for him must be given before our love for family.
Here’s the reason why he wants such prioritized love from his Apostles, and from each of us; it’s in Romans, chapter 6; “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” Love for the Lord leads to newness of life, where love is fulfilled in dimensions that we can’t even behold right now.
The same goes with love for country. Love your country with all of her blessings and curses. But don’t be so overzealous about her that our love for country supersedes love for our Creator. Remember the hands that brought us into existence, and the hands that will grant us newness of life.
How is this greater love for Jesus manifested for us Catholics? First, through devotion to his holy Name. The only time the Apostles spoke the word Jesus, Yeshua, was when they praised him as Lord, or when they told stories in the oral tradition of what he spoke or did among the people. When spoken, his Name was always raised high. Second, have a steadfast prayer life that searches for the closeness the Apostles have in this Gospel. They’re sitting with him. Take time to sit with Christ, who desires our closeness. It’s not a freaky thing to do. It’s most natural. A Christian who fails to pray is way too occupied with worldly things that are passing.
Third, greater love for Christ is manifested in our solemn, reverent reception of Holy Eucharist. I must admit I get frustrated at weddings and funerals when an individual comes forward to receive the Eucharist and they simply grab at it… Our posture and reverence when receiving the Body and Blood of Christ expresses a greater love for our Savior. It reveals what’s in a person’s heart. A very simple act that takes about 3 seconds, but a very meaningful and profound act on our part.
And fourth, our greater love for Christ is always manifested in the familiar commandment of loving neighbor. Our greater love for Christ is never disconnected from caring about the needs of the real poor and despised, as well as praying for those who abuse power and finances. Love of neighbor is not only about serving the poor, but about the wayward rich also.
Jesus demands our greater love for him so that we may love greatly in this short life. It’s the fool who thinks they can love greatly without loving God initially. People like that take all the credit, and give none to the One who sustains their life. May we love Christ first and above all, and the eternal joys that follow will be ours. Fr. Connors had it right; For God and Country. He had his priorities in order. He understood this Gospel very well.